Macbeth – August 2013

Experience: 7/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Eve Best

Venue: Shakespeare’s Globe

Date: Wednesday 28th August 2013

Not bad for a first time director, though again the limited view reduced our enjoyment. We sat in a Gentlemen’s box on the right side of the stage, and from our position there were no entrances in sight at all. The stage had been extended forward with a semi-circle which had steps down to left and right. There were similar steps on each side of the stage near the front, while the pillars had sizeable steps set into their bases which allowed for climbing. At the back of the stage were some walls which looked like they were made of wooden planks; they jutted out into the stage and had jagged tops as well, which reminded us of a crown as well as a wooden palisade. At the base of the walls were small piles of mud or soil (detachable, as we saw later) and the walls themselves had muddy stains tapering off about half way up. The planks had been painted white, and were aged and weathered. The trunks of the pillars were wrapped in covers stained to echo this effect.

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Macbeth NTL – July 2013

Experience: 7/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Kenneth Branagh and Rob Ashford

Manchester International Festival

Venue: Ritz cinema, Worthing

Date: Saturday 20th July 2013

This was our first time watching a live broadcast of a theatre performance in a cinema. It may not be our last, but that won’t be from choice. As this was the only way we were going to see this production I’m glad we did it, but as we suspected the cinematic process reduced our enjoyment by a huge amount. Still, it looked like a great production in many ways and from the massive number of curtain calls, the Manchester audience clearly loved it; wish we’d been there.

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Macbeth – April 2013

Experience: 3/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Jamie Lloyd

Venue: Trafalgar Studios

Date: Thursday 25th April 2013

We were running late today and nearly missed this performance; the day would have gone better if we had. Steve may have ‘enjoyed’ this slightly more than I did, but then he was one in from the end of our row and thus could see a bit more of the action. Our seats were at the back of the stage, second row, and while they gave us an interesting perspective, the poor sightlines made our experience worse than it might have been had we sat elsewhere. (We were late booking, I should point out.) Judging by the gaps we could see after the interval, we weren’t alone in our opinion of the production; only our eternal optimism kept us there for another turgid hour or so.

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Macbeth – October 2012

8/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Daniel Evans

Venue: Crucible Theatre

Date: Wednesday 3rd October 2012

I liked this very much. It was a good straightforward production; the costumes were in period with a modern flavour, but with no guns or other anachronisms, the text was cut, but only to tell the story more clearly, and the delivery of lines was excellent, which was to be expected given this cast. It was also nice to see the ‘ee ba gum’ boys back together again on stage (Andrew Jarvis (Duncan) and John Dougall (Macduff), for those who didn’t see the ESC’s Wars of the Roses).

The set had a large circle of stones laid round the outside of the stage, with gaps left for the entrances. There were concentric rings of paving stones inside these, with gratings round the innermost circle and also just inside the bigger stone ring. I thought these would be for water, but they were mainly for light effects and some smoke. Mind you, there were some pools of water around the outside of the stone circle which came in handy later on. The innermost circle rose up to become the banquet table, and the very centre also sank down to become the cauldron for the witches’ brew. Apart from that, and some seats being brought on and off, the stage was nicely bare.

They started with the three witches, all female, all looking fairly hideous. They could disappear quite quickly with the three exits, and with such short scenes at the start there’s a need to be brisk. The bloody man was just that – plenty of Kensington gore on show – while Duncan was a saintly figure, with white hair and beard and grey robes, looking a bit Gandalf-like. He put his hand or hands on other people’s heads a lot in this production, and the nobility of his character was definitely being emphasised. I did find myself wondering if all was well in the kingdom though; they had just put down one rebellion and here was Macbeth about to have a go. There were clear reactions from the king and his men to the story the bloody man was telling, and to the further news of the Norwegian king’s defeat.

The witches came together on our side of the stage to speak to Macbeth and Banquo, and Macbeth was clearly startled to hear their third greeting. He stayed on the other side of the stage while Banquo chatted up the three witches, so I couldn’t see what he was doing at that point, and as the witches had their backs to us I also couldn’t see their faces so I don’t know if they treated Macbeth and Banquo differently. Only Ross came on afterwards with the message for Macbeth.

When they were welcomed by the court, I noticed how roundabout Macbeth is when responding to Duncan’s praise, whereas Banquo is very direct. When Duncan announced Malcolm would be his heir, Macbeth had already moved a little forward in anticipation, then hung back in disappointment and didn’t clap like the other Scottish lords. Lady Macbeth (Claudie Blakely) was truly surprised to read the royal prophecy, and after being told that the king would be arriving shortly, her reference to “under my battlements” was distinctly creepy, worthy of the horror genre at its best. They used the sound of a raven (I assume) to trigger this line.

Lady Macbeth greeted Duncan graciously, but I could see she was concerned about Macbeth’s absence. Macbeth’s conscience then had a good airing, and he was remarkably resolute against killing Duncan by the time his wife came along. She was full of contempt for his weakness, and he started to waver; when he asked how they would do it she knew she had him. I never like it when Macbeth grabs his wife’s crotch on the line “bring forth men children only”; I know they’re married but it always seems so crass, and tonight was no different.

Banquo had already indicated his relationship with Fleance when giving us the Springwatch speech earlier about birds nesting in the roof. He’d moved Fleance forwards to stand on a stone during it, so when the same character came on with him again we knew who he was. Banquo strapped his sword round his son and gave him a fatherly kiss on the head as well. Macbeth came up behind Fleance in the dark and pretended to strangle him, all in jest of course. Macbeth uses the word “we” during his conversation with Banquo, and I wonder if this is a slip on his part, using the royal “we” before he’s actually king. I didn’t notice any reaction tonight to this word. Instead of a servant, Macbeth sent Fleance with the message to his wife.

Even before Fleance left, Macbeth was looking glassy-eyed into the middle distance. It may be a problem with theatre in the round when Macbeth’s dagger is just in his mind, but it took me a while to realise what he was doing. Once he started moving around a bit it became clearer and the lines themselves came across well. The actual murder and the disjointed dialogue between Macbeth and his wife were good, with Macbeth on the other side of the stage and keeping his back to his wife when he returned with bloody hands, so it would be natural for her not to see that he still had the daggers. When she did realise, she threw her hands up as she indicated them, very angry with him for making the mistake.

The porter was very good. He did the three arrivals in hell very well, standing on the stones as he said the lines, and moving round to a new position each time. His actions became bolder with each one and he stood on two stones for the final one, the equivocator, stepping from one to the other to illustrate the points. Not Adrian Schiller perhaps, but still very good.

When Macbeth turned up to greet Macduff, his hands still looked a little red to me – they say fake blood washes off without leaving a stain, but……. I did think that the stabbing of the grooms would serve a dual purpose here, not only removing the innocent scapegoats but giving Macbeth a reason for having blood on his hands (the Elizabethan equivalent of GSR). Macduff was very subdued when he came out of Duncan’s bedroom, and when Macbeth returned from checking his report, his entrance echoed the earlier one when he’d just done the murder, as he was holding the bloody daggers in his hands. Lady Macbeth was on stage by this time, and she was very concerned about Macbeth’s actions in killing the grooms – I could see her face while she hugged Malcolm in sympathy for his loss – and she became even more concerned when Macbeth struggled to find a reasonable excuse when challenged about their killing. Her fainting was definitely a tactical move tonight.

There was a short scene to tell us about both the coronation and Malcolm and Donalbain’s flight, and then Macbeth and his wife, now king and queen, entered in splendour. We could see all was not well though. Macbeth looked confident enough, but Lady Macbeth was having the odd wobbly, especially when Macbeth made it clear that he wanted her to leave him alone as well. The two murderers were in hand restraints, and Macbeth twirled a key in his fingers while he talked with them, making it perfectly clear what was at stake. It did distract me a bit from the dialogue, though. I noticed one of the murderers tried to have his say but was always cut short by one of the others.

I don’t remember anything specific about the next scene between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, and the killing of Banquo was done briskly, with Fleance running off as usual. The banquet scene was set up fairly quickly, with a large round plate full of tasty food placed on the centre of the stage which then rose up to form the table. There were other plates added and seats placed round it while two fancier seats were stationed at the two main exits. These were the thrones, and while Lady Macbeth sat on her throne – hence “keeps her state” – Macbeth wandered round the table, playing the host to his guests. When the murderer entered on our side of the stage, Macbeth came over to hear his news, so my view of Banquo’s entrance was blocked, but Steve saw him slide onto a seat on the other side of the table. There were only three other lords anyway, so he wasn’t hard to spot when the murderer left and Macbeth moved out of the way. Macbeth’s reactions were good, and I was able to be aware of both his point of view and that of the others in the room who couldn’t see the ghost. Banquo did all the necessary head movements, and for his second entrance he came up through the middle of the table, right through the plate of food. Lady Macbeth looked worn out by the end of this scene, while Macbeth was still energised and determined to keep going. After the other lords had left, Macbeth started and looked round once more when he thought the ghost might have come back, but there was nothing there; it simply showed how jumpy he was.

They took the interval after this scene, and during it we noticed the stage crew putting little objects in gaps around the stones, like an Easter egg hunt. This proved to be more accurate than I realised. Meanwhile the second half started with Hecate telling off the three witches for messing things up and instructing them to put it right immediately. Hecate herself was one of many parts played by Christopher Logan,  and he was wearing a large headdress with a mask and suitably witchlike clothing. After she left, the witches began their spell, throwing lots of vaguely disgusting-looking things into the cauldron – I didn’t look too closely. When Macbeth confronted them they were amazingly helpful, clearly influenced by Hecate’s telling off.

The three apparitions stuck their heads up through the cauldron. For the final apparition, Banquo emerged onto the stage, while a younger man came up and sat on the side of the hole and the youngest lad simply put his head through. Banquo put a crown on the young man’s head, and he in turn took it off and put it on the young lad; there was no mention of the long line of kings. The news of Macduff’s flight came, and Macbeth was by now determined to take action – it doesn’t look good for Mrs Macduff and the bairns.

The Macduffs were having a good time collecting eggs on the sea shore, judging by the sound effects. The eggs were duly collected by her son, and the only other child present was a baby, placed in a wicker crib to one side of the stage. The warnings came and went, but she lingered too long and the murderer and Macbeth were the ones who came to do the killing. Actually, Macbeth just stood to one side while the murderer did the business, but the effect was the same. Macbeth took the baby out of its crib and held it all the while, then took it away with him at the end. I don’t know what this was meant to signify, but both Steve and I thought it may have been a way of getting a replacement baby for the one he and his wife had clearly lost (there may have been more than one, of course). It did make Ross out to be a liar when he reported later that all Macduff’s children were dead, but it’s a minor point. Lady Macduff was very strong in this scene, as was her son.

The scene in England was also well done, with Malcolm’s testing of Macduff being very clear. When Ross turned up with his bad news, there was a strange delay between Macduff’s question about his family and the answer, but tonight it simply came across as Ross giving the necessary background before coming to the point. He seems to be a wordy character anyway, similar to Polonius but not as funny. Macduff’s reactions were very moving, and I started the sniffles in this scene. No English doctor this time.

Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking was another good scene. The doctor and servant set it up nicely and we could see the candle before we saw the woman. She used the pool over to our left to wash her hands at first, then moved towards the middle. The servant was standing in front of her for most of the latter part of this scene, but from the dialogue I could tell it was a good performance. She gave a long, keening cry towards the end before leaving the stage to go back to bed.

The English and Scottish troops had their meetings and made their decision to cut branches to cover their advance. I found myself thinking there wouldn’t be much left of Birnam wood by the time they’d been through it. Meantime at Dunsinane Macbeth was getting more and more worked up. I don’t remember a Seyton as such; the murderer did any work that was necessary such as bringing on the armour, while the doctor brought the news about the wood. Just as he entered, the murderer left carrying the baby which Macbeth had finally relinquished; the doctor looked really worried as he saw the baby being taken out.

The foliage arrived with Malcolm’s forces, and was more substantial than in many a production. The fighting between Macduff and Macbeth was very strong, with sparks flying from the swords as they clashed. Macbeth was doing better than Macduff till he heard the bad news, then he struggled to match his opponent. For the final scene, there was a very realistic head on the pole which was placed in the centre of the stage, but fortunately Geoffrey Streatfeild came on to take his bow with the rest of them – phew.

I was aware of a number of things tonight. Firstly, I realised that unlike Richard III and Iago, Macbeth isn’t an evil man, he just finds himself doing evil things because of that fatal flaw, his ambition. As a result we have to watch someone much closer to a regular human being making bad choices and suffering the consequences all through the play. Even Lady Macbeth’s prayer to be filled with evil is a failure; she starts to suffer from her actions very quickly, and couldn’t even face killing Duncan herself because he looked like her father – what a waste of breath that was. It’s this connection to our own flawed humanity which makes this play interesting and also difficult. I’ve heard a number of people comment that we become complicit in, for example, Richard III’s villainy, but I don’t see it that way. The audience has no say in what he does, and yet it’s fascinating to see the way his mind works and how others are duped – the audience are much more like them than Richard. The humour helps as well, but Richard III wouldn’t be watchable if he didn’t lose in the end; that makes it cathartic instead of scary. Apart from the porter and one or two other bits, there’s precious little humour in Macbeth, and that also makes it harder to ‘enjoy’.

From the Oxford Complete Works I’ve learned that the version of Macbeth we’re left with has been interfered with by Thomas Middleton, although the extent of the tampering isn’t known. That made sense tonight, as I felt we were watching an unbalanced and misshapen play, which doesn’t quite work in the way Shakespeare’s other plays do. Even so, this was an excellent production of what we do have, and if some members of the audience hadn’t been so intent on coughing their way through the second half we would have enjoyed it even more.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Macbeth – August 2011

8/10

By: William Shakespeare

Directed by: Michael Boyd

Venue: RST

Date: Friday 26th August 2011

Good as it was to see this play again from a different angle, we did lose the surprise factor the second time around, and I felt a little more distant from the action this time at the start – perhaps it was the chilly nature of the auditorium, which for an August day felt more like November. There were some things I saw better from our more central angle, and I noticed a few changes, as well as enjoying some of the ‘fun’ bits again. It’s still a good production, and I hope to catch it in London when it transfers.

As I watched the opening speech by Malcolm, I realised that having him deliver it emphasises Macbeth’s achievements compared to his. Malcolm is wounded, disoriented, and is merely reporting the victory that Macbeth has won. I spotted the mention of the Thane of Cawdor in Ross’s report, and later wondered why Macbeth, who has been battling the Norwegians and their allies in Scotland, i.e. Cawdor, doesn’t realise that the thaneship is likely to become vacant in the near future. It’s a minor quibble, of course, but these things do catch my attention from time to time.

Lady Macbeth seemed less concerned about hiding the letter tonight, and there was a small change when she was persuading Macbeth to commit murder – she put the emphasis on ‘screw’ this time (‘but screw your courage to the sticking-place’). Once convinced, Macbeth behaved very differently, with much more confidence and a willingness to deceive.

The dagger scene was done without the mist tonight, the murder all went down the same way as before, and then the porter gave us all the fun of seeing other audience members being picked on – not me tonight, thank goodness – then the explosions, and finally the warning about not going back to a lit firework. Still got a laugh and applause. Macbeth didn’t look intently at the porter tonight; in fact, the porter was gazing intently at him this time while Macbeth wandered to the front of the stage to wait for the inevitable outcry. After it came, and Macbeth did the dirty on the grooms, I kept an eye on Lady Macbeth as she listened to Macbeth’s justification and watched the court’s reactions. I reckon her faint was strategic, but as I couldn’t see the lords’ faces this time I can’t be sure. If not, then it may have been a foretaste of her madness later on.

Ross’s meeting with Macduff segued into the coronation, with Ross starting the falsetto singing after Macduff leaves. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth came down on a bench, the bowl was brought on for the water, and Macbeth’s head was dunked as before. Then I saw that Lady Macbeth held her hands in the water, washing them, before throwing water into Macbeth’s cupped hands. ‘God save the King’ was chanted three times, and then we were straight into Macbeth’s line ‘Here’s our chief guest’.

The banquet scene straddled the interval as before, and the rest of the action seemed pretty much the same to the end of the play. I did notice that when Macbeth was with the children again, and has been told about Birnam wood coming to Dunsinane, his response includes the line ‘Who can…bid the tree Unfix his earth-bound root?’ There had been some comments about the nature and volume of the foliage on show in this production, and I reckon this line may have been the reason why the tree and branches that were used all had roots on them. They also act as a reminder of the general theme, that Macbeth is childless while Banquo is the father of a line of kings.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Macbeth – June 2011

9/10

By: William Shakespeare

Directed by: Michael Boyd

Venue: RST

Date: Tuesday 14th June 2011

This was fantastic! The whole production worked wonderfully well, with some great performances and some startling new interpretations. The initial set was a derelict church. The back wall, across the back of the thrust, had wood panelling on each side, and a large wooden door in the middle underneath a wide balcony. Defaced paintings either side of the door suggested the Reformation period. Above this, the remains of two large stained glass windows stood either side of two saint niches – one of these had been blasted through to the outside, while the saint in the other one was damaged. Stairs ran down to the stage on the left, and there were two piles of rubble in front of the back wall, either side of the door; the remains of the missing saint could be seen on one pile. Two lines of strip lights went back to front of the stage, and there were some missing bits in the floorboards. Although it wasn’t a factory setting, it reminded me of last year’s King Lear set, and I was a bit worried at first. But I soon realised that this set didn’t dominate the action, and it was tidied up in the interval, with significant repairs for the final scene. I wondered later if the sense of destruction may have been intended to suggest that the country was more divided in Duncan’s time than they were letting on?

Before the start, three women carried their cellos onto the balcony, and sat there throughout the action. Oho, we thought, could these represent the three witches? But no, they played some beautiful music, moody and melancholic, but there were no witches in this production, so tough. In fact, the play started with the bloody man’s speech, only this time the bloody man is Malcolm, and he’s prompted several times by Ross before he gets going. This confused me a bit – neither Steve nor I can figure out what the prompting was intended to convey, either at the start or later on – and that may have been why I didn’t understand the first bit of Malcolm’s speech properly. For the most part, the dialogue was extraordinarily clear; this was about the only bit I had difficulty with.

After the initial report of the battle, the witches are supposed to put in a second appearance, but here we go straight to Macbeth and Banquo arriving on stage. Did I detect a hint of limp as Macbeth first walked onto the stage? Or was it just the memory of Richard III? Anyway, there’s little for Macbeth and Banquo to say at this point, until three figures are lowered down on meat hooks at the front of the stage. At first I thought they were dummies, then I realised they were alive, and not only that, they were three children, two boys and one girl. Wearing drab clothes, they had dark crosses painted on their foreheads. Steve was aware that these represented the crosses for birth and death. They spoke their first lines from the air, hailing Macbeth and priming him with the seductive titles, then descended and removed their hooks while Banquo is saying his lines. The children turn to leave, but Banquo calls them back, and they give his prophecies in a very solemn way, before bursting into childish laughter (think The Turn Of The Screw) and running off. This was very creepy. I didn’t have a clear view of Macbeth while all of this was going on, so I want to watch carefully another time to see his reactions to the children’s greetings.

Ross and Angus arrive, and Macbeth is clearly stunned to hear himself addressed as Thane of Cawdor. He stays towards the front of the stage to talk to us while Banquo chats with Ross and Angus back left. After they leave, Duncan walks on from the back, while Malcolm, now cleaned up but still with a scar on his forehead, reports the death of Cawdor. As Duncan emphasised the line “He was a gentleman on whom I built an absolute trust”, I was aware that he’s about to make the same mistake again.

Macbeth and Banquo approached this gathering down the centre aisle, and again all the lines were totally clear. There’s just a hint of Macbeth leaning forward as Duncan turns in his direction to announce that Malcolm is to be his successor; Malcolm was standing next to Macbeth at the time. Macbeth’s lines about heading off to his castle to prepare for the king’s visit sounded stilted and jerky compared to his previous lines, but the court presumably put it down to battle fatigue.

As they left the stage towards the front, Lady Macbeth sneaks on at the back. She’s clearly come into another room to read Macbeth’s letter; I got the impression that she’s read the start of it, realised it wasn’t for public viewing, and stepped aside to read the rest in a private chamber. This was a great performance, with clarity in the dialogue, and a sense of someone not so much evil as ruthless, and prepared to go as far as she could to achieve her ambition. In some ways, this was more disturbing than seeing her as a monster; she could just as easily be a suburban housewife as a wannabe queen.

Macbeth arrives, and she soon realises she’ll have to persuade him to murder Duncan. Then Duncan himself arrives, and is greeted warmly by Lady Macbeth. Macbeth’s soliloquy “If it were done when ‘tis done” was delivered well; Jonathan Slinger tended to do all of these speeches from the sweet spot, or as near as he could get from up a ladder, suspended in a chair or whatever. There wasn’t much movement, but he included us all, and as we were right round one side, I was impressed. During the persuasion scene, Macbeth actually walks off part way through. Lady Macbeth stops him with “I have given suck”, and gets him back with “but screw your courage to the sticking point and we’ll not fail”, with a strong emphasis on “your courage”.

When Banquo comes on with Fleance, I wasn’t sure why he gave the boy his sword to hold at first, but then he handed Fleance a jewelled orb to hold as well, posing him carefully, and it dawned on me; he wants to savour the prospect of his children being kings! The orb is the diamond he gives to Macbeth shortly afterwards, and then we’re into the famous dagger speech. This time, the dagger is totally imaginary, although with a swirling mist in the middle of the stage, we could be forgiven for thinking there might be something there, if only we could see it! (I jest; actually the mist wasn’t that thick this time.)

After he leaves, Lady Macbeth comes on from the side, and has clearly been drinking with the grooms. The owl’s screech is actually done by the little girl running across the stage from the back to the far walkway, invisible to Lady M. The rest of the scene is nicely edgy; both characters are showing the strains of murder, and Macbeth especially is far too loud for comfort; Lady M puts her hand over his mouth to quiet him at one point.

The next scene is the porter, and here I have to admit to one of the few occasions when I have been so deeply impressed by one performance that all others fail miserably by comparison. I’m referring to Adrian Schiller’s marvellous portrayal of a completely sozzled porter many years ago, when he fell down between two bits of scenery and re-emerged still holding his drink. We will always remember that porter, and so we have no great expectations of this scene in any other production. This version wasn’t too bad, though, and now that I’ve read the program notes, I can see that the business was intended to reflect the failed gunpowder plot of 1605. The porter, dressed in a red outfit (this is relevant – read on), with a bulging coat and blood on his face, staggered on and leered at us all. He opened his coat, and there were lots of sticks of dynamite strapped to his body. He took one out, and as he identified each new arrival in hell, he lit the fuse and placed the stick of dynamite in front of the poor audience member. I knew they wouldn’t blow us up, but even so, I found myself riveted on the fuses as they burned down. They were different lengths, so they all reached the dynamite at about the same time, and then stopped. Nothing. The porter picked them all up and threw them in disgust in the corner, amongst the rubble, where they went off with fairly loud bangs. Good fun. Then he warned us not to go back to a lit firework, which got another laugh and applause.

Macduff arrived, and as he went in to wake the king, Macbeth, Ross and the porter waited outside – Ross took the part of Lennox. Again, I couldn’t quite see what was going on between the porter and Macbeth, but Macbeth was looking very intently at him. The alarms and clamour were all well done, and I could see that the situation could appear too risky for Malcolm to stay and claim his crown as Duncan’s heir. Macbeth’s justification for killing the grooms was strong enough to sound reasonable this time, and I couldn’t see enough of Lady Macbeth’s faint to know how that was set up. There was a strong atmosphere of suspicion and uncertainty.

As I recall, the next scene started with Ross on his own, later joined by Macduff, and already Ross is coming across as an appeaser type, wanting things to be well, but nervous about what’s really going on. Macduff is much more straightforward. I forget whether we get Banquo’s lines at the start of the next scene or not, but we do get a coronation. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth come down from above, sitting on either a pair of thrones or a bench, with the other nobles coming on from the sides. Ross has been wearing a crucifix during the play so far, and now with some additional religious dressing, conducts the ceremony. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth kneel facing each other across the middle of the stage, with Ross behind them. A large bowl is placed between the Macbeths, and water rains down from above, filling it up. Ross dunks Macbeth’s head in the water, and uses it to make the sign of the cross. I don’t remember if he does the same to Lady Macbeth. The bowl is removed, after the water has stopped, of course, and a posh new robe is placed on Macbeth along with the crown. The court shouts “God save the King” a couple of times, and then the dialogue picks up again with Macbeth’s welcome to Banquo. After their brief discussion, Banquo tries to take his leave several times, with Macbeth asking a fresh question and keeping him there. Finally he leaves, and Macbeth dismisses the rest of the court, including Lady Macbeth, who’s evidently concerned at being excluded.

Macbeth’s soliloquy was fine, and then I think the murderers were brought on by the porter, or Seyton as we now know him to be. They’re quickly convinced by Macbeth’s arguments, and willing to do the necessary killing. After they leave, Lady Macbeth tells us of her concerns about their situation, and then rallies to encourage her husband when he expresses the same feelings. Macbeth gives his wife a big hug at this point, wrapping his arms and his robe around them both like a huge duvet, making it a little hard to see their expressions, but it’s clear that Lady Macbeth isn’t happy about things.

Seyton joins the two murderers for the attack on Banquo and Fleance. The fight is worth paying attention to; Banquo is stabbed several times, then holds on to one of the murderers to stop him reaching Fleance, who’s standing still instead of running away. Finally Fleance runs and Banquo’s throat is cut from behind. The two murderers run off, and then Banquo rolls over, gets up, and walks through the door which is held open by Seyton/the porter. Seyton’s red outfit echoes the red clothes worn by the gatekeeper to the dead in Michael Boyd’s Histories cycle, and it’s clear he’s carrying out the same role here.

The banquet scene was nice and uncluttered in this production. Instead of bringing on a table and lots of chairs, the stage is left bare, and the Macbeths and the rest of the court simply walk around. We, the audience, are included in the assembled throng. Macbeth’s comment about there not being a place for him at the table is obviously cut. The conversation with the murderer takes place at the back of the stage, and when Banquo arrives the first time, he batters through the door, and walks over to Macbeth before leaving. The second time round, Banquo comes down from the balcony, strides over to Macbeth, and executes the same wounds on him that he received when he was murdered, while Macbeth cries out “Treachery” and “Fly” as Banquo did to Fleance. Lady Macbeth is very upset, and when she complains that Macbeth’s behaviour spoils the mirth, she grins and laughs too much, trying to make the situation into a joke, but no one else joins in. This was clearly the start of her madness.

When Macbeth ‘dies’, the scene is ended, and they take the interval, which reminded us of the Rupert Goold Macbeth in Chichester several years ago. Sure enough, the second half starts with a short reprise of Banquo’s second appearance, only without the ghost, so Macbeth’s ranting and reactions to the blows are caused by nothing. Lady Macbeth goes hysterical, the court is seriously concerned, and after she sends them packing she and Macbeth are both badly shaken. Steve reckoned this was the first time he could see both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth go crazy; she reacts by sleepwalking, he goes hard and cold, and keeps killing people. The seeds of the madness are sown in this scene.

It’s nothing new for productions to skip over Hecate’s next scene, but the following scene is usually between Lennox and another Lord. Here we get Ross, on his own, and deeply troubled. He’s not only nervous, he’s drinking a lot from a flask, and his speech again shows that he’s doing his best to accept Macbeth as a good king, but the evidence keeps mounting up on the other side. That speech finishes early, and then Ross leaves the stage to Macbeth and the three meat hooks.

The three children aren’t around to begin with, but after Macbeth conjures them, we hear them giggling and laughing, and then they come on from the back, each one carrying a doll. They sit in the centre of the stage, and the prophecies are delivered through the dolls, with a lot more dolls falling down from above when Banquo’s line of kings is being shown. For this part, Banquo himself puts in an appearance, bursting up through the stage floor on the far side, leaving a hole which is there for the rest of the performance. The first murderer is the one Macbeth talks to after the apparitions have gone, and it’s clear Macbeth means business. In fact I half expected to see him turn up at Macduff’s castle to do some killing himself, but it was not to be. Interesting idea, though.

At Macduff’s castle, Ross has come to visit his cousins, but although he knows more about the state of the realm, and must have some inkling of how much danger she and her children are in, he doesn’t tell her to run off. Nor, since the messenger has been cut, does anybody else. Her three children are, of course, the three dead children who have been plaguing Macbeth, cleaned up for the occasion, and it’s a bit spooky to realise that they’ve time-travelled in order to get their revenge. The two murderers do their job fairly quickly, although one of them leads the little girl off stage to our right while the other finishes off Lady Macduff by the back wall. When the murderers have left, the dead bodies on stage rise up as Banquo did, and the porter is there to hold the door open for them. Just at the end, the little girl comes running back on stage, so we know she’s been killed as well. Ross appeared at the far balcony just as the dead bodies were removing themselves, so he sees what’s happened for himself.

To England now, and an excellent reading of the scene between Macduff and Malcolm. It started with Macduff coming on stage at the front as his family go through the door at the back. He strides after them, but the door shuts before he can get there, and he hits it forcefully, after which the dialogue started. I found this scene so moving that I cried quite a bit. I reckon Ross delayed the news about the slaughter of Macduff’s family because Scotland’s needs were a greater priority that one man’s. I also spotted that Ross is no longer wearing his crucifix, whether for simplicity’s sake while travelling, or to indicate his moral discomfort, I don’t know. I couldn’t see him properly at the end, so I must look out next time to see if he’s wearing the crucifix again at the end. They included the lines about Edward the Confessor tonight; I think I may have heard them, or some of them, before, although Michael Boyd was sure they were always cut.

The doctor and the gentlewoman are next, and Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene was very well done. When she was washing her hands, it reminded me of the water falling into the bowl during the coronation, as if she’s trying to use holy water to clean herself. She almost walked into the hole in the stage, but her attendant stopped her.

Macbeth’s next entrance is on a throne lowered from above towards the back of the thrust. He’s feeling confident and rather bullish, and there are some laughs at his lines. When the message about the soldiers comes, he actually cuts the messenger’s face himself, and smears the blood over it, although I was too far away to see this in detail. Seyton is sitting up on the balcony, and doesn’t come down until he finally gets Macbeth’s armour. I’ve forgotten now if we see the doctor again – I think that may have been cut, but I’ll watch more closely next time.

When Malcolm and the army arrive, they’re accompanied by Banquo and the dead Macduffs, but not by Siward. This is a Scots-only do. Later, when the army arrives at Dunsinane, Lady Macduff and her children are the ones carrying the branches – in fact she’s carrying a small tree – while the soldiers are unencumbered. The greenery is placed in the hole for the duration.

For Macbeth’s next speech, a ladder rises up from the stage towards the back of the thrust, and Macbeth climbs up it. The start of “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” was good enough, but I felt the rest of speech wasn’t quite there yet, though close. I think this scene runs into the start of battle, and as Macbeth is fighting the Scottish version of young Siward, Lady Macduff comes on carrying a sword, and leaves it beside the door at the back. When Macduff himself arrives, he grabs that extra sword when Macbeth attacks him with two of his own, and finally kills Macbeth on stage. As he lies there, Malcolm enters, and Macduff goes straight into “Hail, king!”. With Malcolm being prompted yet again by Ross for “We shall not spend…..” the play is almost finished, but there’s still one dead body to deal with.

At the very end, while the cello music is playing, Lady Macduff goes upstairs and opens the shutters on the stained glass windows, which are now whole, and which let in a beautiful light. She comes back downstairs, and along with her children spends a few moments just standing at the front of the stage, while they look at the dead Macbeth. Then they leave, and Seyton comes on to escort Macbeth’s dead body off stage. Macbeth rises, as if surprised to find there’s life after death, and looks around, He sees the door and heads towards it, and then the lights go out. Now it’s the audience’s turn to be noisy, and we do our very best.

This was a tremendous emotional journey, with many enjoyable performances. After seeing four of this season’s productions, I think the ensemble is stronger this time than last, with better verse speaking and lots of comic talent. Jonathan Slinger’s performance as Macbeth showed all the power he’s gained from such a long stint in The Histories, and although the connections with Richard III were obvious, I didn’t feel the earlier portrayal got in the way. Scott Handy took Ross on an interesting journey, helped by being given some of the other minor parts’ dialogue. He starts out a bit of an appeaser, then realises things have gone too far and goes to England. While he carried out the coronation, he sang beautifully using his falsetto singing voice which I remember from his Ariel, many years ago. Aislín McGuckin was wonderful as Lady Macbeth, and the whole cast supported the central performances brilliantly. The four children tonight were Jason Battersby, Hal Hewetson, Anwar Ridwan (Fleance), and Isabella Sanders.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Macbeth – April 2010

6/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Declan Donnellan

Company: Cheek By Jowl

Venue: Silk Street Theatre

Date: Monday 5th April 2010

Two hours without an interval! And on less padded seats than I would like! And it’s a Cheek By Jowl production, which may be great, but then I didn’t go the distance with their Troilus And Cressida! God help us.

So far, so good. It’s a nice little theatre, attached to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and although the seats are firm, they’re not uncomfortable. The set is gloomy and misty, an open space with boxes and upended long crates flanking either side of the stage. That’s it.

Well, I managed to stay the distance, but I nodded off towards the end as the going got heavy. Steve and I agreed on this one – some 8/10 good bits, but some equally dull 4/10 sections, so overall a 6/10 rating is appropriate.

The cast were all in basic black, apart from the porter – more on that story later – and were often visible on stage, at first at the edges, then increasingly in the middle, surrounding the action without distracting from it, although I did find that they took away the focus from the active characters at times. During ‘If ’twere done…’, I found myself wondering what difference it would make if Macbeth were alone on the stage, and I decided it would be harder work for the actor to really make his presence felt, and also much more intense for the audience. I wasn’t convinced that Will Keen, much as I like his work, could have done that with this interpretation, although Anastasia Hille as Lady Macbeth was managing fine.

The staging had some good aspects, but there were puzzles. Why were some of the accents obviously Scottish, and others not? Lady Macbeth stayed on the stage after the sleepwalking scene – why? It seemed to work as Macbeth was seeing her there, sitting on a stool, but then the news of her death came – she had left the stage just beforehand – so presumably he was looking at a….what? A vision? A ghost?

There was a lot of mime used to replace props and gore. In many ways this was good – speeds up the action as actors don’t have to deal with the props or bother with blood bags – but again there were questions. The bloody man at the start appears to stab himself for no apparent reason. Steve reckoned it may have been to explain to the uninitiated why he’s called the ‘bloody man’, as they might think Duncan is just swearing, but the mime was unclear to me, so maybe I just didn’t get it. The victims of murder (and there are quite a few in even this edited version) all mimed their own killing, which I thought worked very well.

The witches were done as disembodied voices – there were only two women in the cast – and with the cast standing behind Banquo and Macbeth at the start; I found this very effective. For the prophecy scene, the rest of the cast carried children (dolls, that is) in a circle around Macbeth, ending with Banquo himself. Also good, as was the use of lights to represent the other spirits.

There were some long pauses during the staging, which were at odds with the rest of it. Lady Macbeth takes the pretty route when coming on stage to greet Duncan, and by the way, why was Duncan blind? Don’t ask me. Macduff was posed with his family before the killing scene, and stayed there for a bit as his wife and son had a very truncated dialogue about the wickedness of men. It made the point, emphasised in some other productions, that Macbeth does not have children to follow him, but it was also a bit distracting as well.

The porter was extremely memorable. The other woman in the cast played this part, and was done up in the only colourful costume of the production. Day-glo almost. And she was definitely the worse for wear – been out with her mates for a long pub crawl by the looks of her. Her cubby-hole was in one of the tall crates which was wheeled round to the centre of the stage. She spoke into an entrance phone, and was the liveliest character on stage, and with the broadest Scots accent, if I remember correctly.

All the other performances were fine, and the set, if I can call it that, was certainly atmospheric. But the production had too many flaws for me to rate it any higher.

© 2010 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me