Kenneth Branagh is back in Bard territory with a new production of Shakespeare's "Macbeth" that he stars in and co-directed with Rob Ashford at the Manchester International Festival in England. The production marks the first time Branagh has played the Scottish thane and is the actor's first Shakespearean stage role since he played "Richard III" in 2002.
"Macbeth" is being performed in a deconsecrated church in the Manchester area. (Branagh-philes will recall that his 1995 comedy "A Midwinter's Tale" featured a production of "Hamlet" set in an old English church.)
The play is scheduled to be broadcast live to cinemas in England on July 20 as part of the NT Live series. A pre-recorded version will be broadcast to movie theaters in the U.S. and around the world starting Oct. 17, with encore screenings to follow.
Joining Branagh in the production is actress Alex Kingston -- best known in the U.S. for her role as Dr. Elizabeth Corday on NBC's "ER" -- as Lady Macbeth.
Branagh's production has been generating a lot of buzz on both sides of the Atlantic, with reviews being generally favorable.
His performance "reminds us what an intemperately exciting Shakespearean actor he is," wrote Michael Billington in the Guardian. "[What] I admire about Branagh is that he is not afraid to do a spot of old-fashioned acting. The highest compliment I can pay him is that at times he evoked golden memories of Olivier in the role."
Ben Brantley of the New York Times described the production as "a crowd pleaser in the best sense. Mr. Ashford and Mr. Branagh have given us a straightforwardly medieval 'Macbeth' that's as loaded with action, intrigue and varieties of lust."
The Telegraph's Kate Bassett was less impressed, writing that Branagh "is often very good, looks the part, understands the psychology, delivers Shakespeare's verse with a fluidity that sounds fresh. But then there'll be an affected pause... a moment so mannered you'd think you were watching Edmund Kean."
Branagh's "Macbeth" comes at a time of renewed popularity for the tragic play. A new movie version starring Michael Fassbender and Natalie Portman is reportedly in the works, and Ethan Hawke is bringing the play to Broadway this fall, re-teaming with director Jack O'Brien, at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theatre.
Alan Cumming currently is appearing on Broadway in an experimental version of "Macbeth," in which he incarnates all of the major roles of the play. (The last time "Macbeth" was on Broadway was in 2008, with Patrick Stewart.)