By: David Greig
Directed by: Roxana Silbert
Company: National Theatre of Scotland (presenting the RSC production in association with the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh)
Venue: Swan Theatre
Date: Thursday 23rd June 2011
Be careful what you ask for – you might get it, is the warning. Well, I asked to see this play again, in a longer run, and preferably at Stratford, and lo and behold, here it is, in Stratford, in a production by the National Theatre of Scotland, based on the RSC’s production which we saw back in February last year, and with some of the same cast as before. Yippee.
Although the NTS production was originally blocked for a proscenium arch theatre, we were seeing this in the Swan, so the cast had to adapt yet again to a different set up. The raised bit from last time was to the back and left of the stage, under the balcony, and everything else was so close to last time that I didn’t spot any changes. This was true of the text as well; although the final scene seemed shorter, I couldn’t have told you what was changed. It was only at the post-show chat that we were told this last scene, Winter, had been the most reworked part, with serious editing, particularly in relation to the dead boy. I’ll have to get another text and compare them sometime.
Overall, I felt this performance was more focused and clearer than the first time we saw the play. Naturally, some of this is down to us being familiar with the story and the text, and some of it will be due to their greater experience with the play, especially performing it in Scotland. But I also think the contrast between the subtle political machinations of the Scottish nobility and the blunt directness of Siward came across more clearly this time. The humour was still there; in fact I reckon it was stronger than last time, but I also felt there were times when I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, such as the final situation where Siward is about to kill the baby. There were some laughs from the audience, and I could understand why, but I didn’t feel like it at that point myself. This came up in the post show discussion too, with people feeling discomfort at some of the ‘funny’ bits, such as the tit-shooting section.
The cast were very forthright in the discussion, and seem to have a great affection for this play. Basically, if anyone offers them a chance to put it on, they’ll be there. There’s a possibility of the States, and I would certainly like to see this again to savour even more of its subtleties, hopefully in Scotland. Siobhan Redmond said that Scottish audiences were immediately aware that Malcolm was a Machiavellian character, whereas English audiences took time to realise what he was up to, and that he wasn’t as weak as he seemed at first.
Something I forgot to mention first time round was the music. I wondered if they’d made any changes this time round, as the rhythms seemed more modern tonight, but both the music and the singing were just as lovely as last time, absolutely beautiful. Having checked my last set of notes, I notice that there was a fire pit in the earlier production which wasn’t used tonight. Otherwise, no other changes that were apparent from my notes.
© 2011 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me
Malcolm’s speech (which paralleled the one he has when “testing” Macduff in the England Scene of Shakespeare’s play) definitely struck me as disingenuous, if not positively Machiavellian – and I was only listening to a broadcast of the play on Radio 3. (Repeat of 7 April 2013).
Many thanks, Peter, not just for the comment, but I realised my earlier notes hadn’t been posted yet – oops! The situation will be rectified shortly.