Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Full of sound and fury (contains big spoilers)

Current work: Rome Riva
Listening to: various
Reading: Rachel Hore, A Place of Secrets (enjoying very much)

If you have tickets booked for Macbeth at Stratford, and you don’t want spoilers, don’t read this blog today. But what I can safely tell you without spoiling it is that you’re in for a treat. I must’ve seen six or seven other productions of Macbeth over the years, and this one for me is joint top with Derek Jacobi’s. (I’d go and see this production again in a heartbeat, which is always a good sign.)

Anyway. We had a good journey down to Stratford on Saturday (the new car is very nice to drive), and DH and daughter dropped me off with son outside the RSC.

We had a wander along the Arden to look at the swans. (Son was a toddler, just past his first birthday, last time I took him to Stratford.)

Then we had a coffee in the bar. And then it was time to go in.

I love how they've changed the inside so it's horse-shoe shaped and the stage is smack in the middle. There are six entrances to the theatre, all of which lead to the stage, and they were all used to good effect.

The set was excellent. They had a musicians' gallery with three cellists providing the music. And the stage, behind the smoking ruins, was basically a smashed-up church; the back wall was a rood screen that had had all the heads defaced. That really resonated with me (obviously with nearly 1000 churches in Norfolk, we have a lot of this). And during the performance they used all the space – above and below the stage. I loved it. (NB it did change for the second half. But this was very, very atmospheric.)

Jonathan Slinger was Macbeth (I saw him in London last year as Bernard in "Yes, Prime Minister" so I knew he was good) and he played the role beautifully - the whole gamut from a worried "but he's my king”, through to the raging tyrant, through to a wonderfully understated resignation on the "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow" speech. Lady Macbeth was also good (though my fave remains Julie Walters).

The porter also played Seyton, and he was excellent - they used fireworks. Which didn't work. Or so we thought... ;o) (That was fun and much-needed light relief! And I loved the adlibs - just as the original clowns would've done.) Obviously part of this was a ref to the Gunpowder plot (very topical when Macbeth was written), but also he was dressed in red leather and just think about his name a bit. Very much a keeper of the door. (Very clever stuff going on there, too. Banquo's entrance at the feast was like The Shining!) Shame they dropped the equivocation bit, but you can’t have everything.

But the part that really surprised me was how they did the witches. CHILDREN. Coming down from the top of the theatre on ropes among the smoking ruins, as if they'd been hanged. Very, very creepy. (They used one of the kids as the owl shrieking - so we saw a ghost running through the castle and Lady Macbeth appeared not to see it, just hear it. Oh, yes - and the children turned out to be Macduff's. So those that bring Macbeth's downfall also become his victims? Nice quandary.) They used dolls to show Macbeth the future; and then, in the bit about Banquo's issue, there were dolls falling down on wires from the ceiling, all different sizes to symbolise generations stretching far into the past. Some of the newspaper reviews have slammed it, but for me it worked well. Obviously doing it this way meant that they had to cut some of the scenes ("When shall we three meet again", etc) but it was very effective.

The scene at Macduff’s castle had me holding my breath and almost covering my eyes because it was unbearable. Brilliantly done.

The spookiness worked throughout – in the last scene, all the dead/ghosts followed people about in the play. And they did Banquo's ghost as a double scene - one before the interval, where we saw what Macbeth saw (and very gory revenge on Banquo’s part), and one after, where it was an identical repeat but there was Banquo, so we saw what the guests saw: Macbeth having illusions. I thought that was pretty effective. Oh, and Lady Macd was v good.

Macduff was excellent. The "what, all my pretty chickens" had me in tears. Superb acting. (I wanted to smack Malcolm at that point for being so insensitive. I know in a tragedy the survivor is always very flat compared to the hero, and has rubbish speeches at the end, but even so...)

They also turned Rosse into a priest (his Pie Jesu when he crowned Macbeth at Scone was gorgeous).

There's a trailer at http://www.rsc.org.uk/whats-on/macbeth/trailer.aspx if you want to take a look.

I really wanted my son’s first Shakespeare to be a bit special. This one definitely was, particularly as it’s the first production in the new theatre and it’s also the fiftieth anniversary of the RSC this year. Just hope that in four years’ time there’s a good production of Much Ado or Twelfth Night so I can make daughter’s first one special for her, too.

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