Sunday, 13 November 2011

Theatre Review: RSC Macbeth 2011

We managed to get tickets to the Michael Boyd production of Macbeth at the RSC in September.  Despite having taught Macbeth for around 4 years I've yet to go off it - a fate that often meets the other texts we study (Hamlet - shudder).  Anyone who knows me well knows I'm a bit of a fan-girl of early modern drama.  Shakespeare, Middleton, Marlowe...  I just love that good ol' tragic action and spectacle.

Now I haven't seen Macbeth live for years - not since Derek Jacobi played the lead in 1994 at the Barbican! How would the 2011 production compare?

The setting offers clues to this interpretation.  We are faced with a stark, eerie stage, full of broken statues and stained glass fragments.  Perhaps a reminder of the reformation and iconoclasticism?  The characters stride across these ruins, oblivious to their tragic arc and the workings of fate.  Interestingly, Ross is played sympathetically as a priest, trying to find meaning where there is none.

Ghosts literally haunt this performance.  Aside from Banquo, the ghosts of Macbeth's victims begin to fill the stage, following the King round and round.  Whilst this is visually effective, in the flurry of short scenes in Act 5 the audience is treated to a lot of feet clumping around as they gallop on and off stage, chasing the tyrant like Roman Furies.  This really is a play at the interstices of the reformation - broken remnants of Catholicism vie with very Catholic revenants.

One of the most intriguing aspects is the directorial decision to have the witches played by children: Macduff's children.  So we see a circular pattern of fate and violence where the children set up Macbeth's destruction on the heath, and are also the victims of this initial meeting, savagely slaughtered on Macbeth's orders.  I'm still not quite sure about this.  Shocking, yes.  But it hurt my head a bit - like some kind of Gordian knot.  There's no denying the power of seeing the witches for the first time however, hanging like broken lifeless dolls above the stage - before they start to jerk.  Freaky children eh?

I like Jonathan Slinger's Macbeth.  He's earthy and natural.  Lady Macbeth on the other hand is played quite safely.  Big hair harshly swept back and swinging dress - a real hard bitch.  I'd have liked to see a bit more subtlety in her.

The porter and Seyton though - wow.  Both played by the same actor, the porter's scene (you know the one - when he's pissed at the gate) reminded me a bit of Guy Fawkes.  Jamie Beamish swaggers around, yelling "knock knock" and getting lots of laughs before chucking a load of explosives.  But this comic character quickly develops into much more.  He often stays onstage, watching Macbeth and Lady M with knowing eyes.  And when the elusive Seyton appears in Act 5 (pleasingly pronounced "Satan") we begin to understand his role.  The porter/Seyton straddles this world and the after life, but he definitely seems to be of the devil's party.  Finally we see him surveying Macbeth's crumpled dead body left on stage.  The tyrant moves, starts to get up groggily, and moves to Seyton's beckoning finger, as he ushers Macbeth's ghost into the ominous door at the back of the stage...

In short, it's a wicked performance.  We stayed in Stratford overnight and were amazed at the lack of places to go after.  We found an Italian restaurant eventually.  I've already booked tickets for the production of Julius Caesar next year (part of the Shakespeare World Festival).  I'm an absolute sucker for any of the Roman plays.