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Perhaps the best way to answer your question is to actually compare two productions of the play, The Royal Shakespeare Company production of Macbeth (1976) directed by Trevor Nunn and the Chirchester production (2007) directed by Rupert Goold. I saw both productions and therefore feel I can address your question from that point of view.
In terms of Shakespearean version, the RSC production wins hands down. This production was done basically bare stage. The prop table was visible as was the wind machine and thunder sheet yet from the opening I was gripped. For two hours, I sat on the edge of my seat caught up in the world created by a wonderful ensemble of actors who were allowed to tell the story without a directorial concept. In a sense, Shakespeare directed since the actors allowed the characters to speak without imposing some preconcieved ideas upon them. I know the play very well and usually think ahead of a production, but not this time. I hung on every words, every gesture, every action. When the knocking came after the killing of Duncan, I didn't expect it even though a part of me knew it was coming. That is how caught up I was. I had the feeling that if I got out of my seat and walked onto the stage, I would be caught up in that world. How the lust for power destroyed both of the central characters was chilling to watch, particularly Judi Dench's agonizing whail that seemed to go on forever and told us that she was already in hell.
I have seen over twenty productions of this play and have yet to see one that was as good as this one was. The beauty of the production was the simplicity. Both Ian McKellen and Judi Dench were amazing as were all the actors in this landmark production.
As for Rupert Goold's production, it was pure conceptual Shakespeare. I must admit from the get go that I do not like this director's work on Shakespeare. ( I've seen four.) I have no quarrel with his modern work but with Shakespeare, he is one of those directors that doesn't seem to trust the playwright and as a result he twists the plays to fit his concept. In this case, the production was set in a Victorian kitchen for the most part. The witches were battlefield nurses. Act III, scene 6 was played as an interrogation instead of a reflection the Scottish paranoia of who can you trust. There were other things that the director did in the production that told me that he didn't really care for what Shakespeare had to say as much as what Rupert Goold had to say. At the interval I decided to sit back and enjoy the acting, which was very good with in the limits of the concept, and just accepted the fact that I was watching Rupert Goold's Macbeth.
As for his exploration of power, it was brutal which is in the play's bloody language. Shades of Soviet power struggles were also evident. However, references to swords didn't make a whole lot of sense to me set as it was in a mishmash of time periods with a Victorian kitchen, Soviet Russia, and modern weapons.
After 37 years of going to England for my Shakespeare, I have discovered the best Shakespeare for me are those productions that pay attention to what the playwright has to say. I really don't like conceptional Shakespeare which impose upon Shakespeare rather than allow him to speak.
Thank Youuuuu soooo much for your answer. You're a life saver!!! :)
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