(Updates with news first row in restricted view in the Barbican)
Productions of Macbeth are famously unlucky and for the RSC this came in the form of a late re-design, as Kevin Spacey fell from grace and its concept of a House of Cards Scottish play, fell like a House of Cards. The anomalous water-cooler at the side of the stage stands as testimony to what might have been.
Now, instead, we have Macbeth as one of those circular horror films that were so popular in the 1970s and as concepts go it has the advantage of adding some real menace, particularly in the form of Christopher Eccleston himself who was very scary indeed.
He needs to stand taller, and look more confident because he is a very good Shakespearean actor with real presence. I will be hoping for a Richard III from him soon and a Lear, an Iago and while I think about it, what about Leontes?
There are lots of kids in this production and the use of 8-year old girls in onesies as witches (I am guessing at the age) does not work for everyone but personally I can’t think of anything more scary. The lisping is overdone at the beginning but otherwise, it’s a neat trick and one that will engage the yoof from the early stages.
As Lady M, Niamh Cusack speaks daggers with a giggly, Irish voice, a thoroughly unsettling performance that pairs well with Eccleston. Her diction and voice projection are exemplary, with a performance that acknowledges that this is a thrust stage and there are people sitting at the sides. In the scenes in the awful glass box, she and Duncan (David Acton) can be heard beautifully.
Why awful glass box? Well, this will be great for the filmed version but in the version where you are actually sitting in the Stalls, you can’t see properly because it’s up high– Duncan in a wheelchair becomes a disconcertingly disembodied voice — and mostly, you can’t hear.
A number of the cast members need to work on diction and voice projection generally. Again, in the version beamed to the Cinema this will not matter but in the theatre, it does. Banquo (Raphael Sowole) is a great visual presence, with a moving relationship with Fleance but he really needs to work on volume and clarity.
This production is in preview so I hope that some of the glitches will be ironed out before opening and before the transfer to the Barbican so that the very good ideas are not lost in the problems with audibility and above all sight-lines, which currently bedevil it. There is a steeper rake on the auditorium at the Barbican and it is a proscenium arch layout which will ameliorate the situation but will not solve all the problems. The first row in the Barbican is being sold at restricted view, interestingly.
Theatre audiences pay a lot of money for their tickets and really deserve to be able to both see and hear. Are directors unconsciously gearing productions for the filmed version? I am beginning to wonder. It really is time to go back to basics, as a wise lady said this morning: “what ever happened to going to the back of the theatre to check everyone can see and hear?”
If you have a teenager, book them into this Macbeth without hesitation. There is a lot of scary fun to be had and at not much over 2 hours, it is not exactly taxing. There is also a convenient digital clock that tells them how much longer the play has to run, it’s a gimmick but one I quite liked along with the homage — well I assume it was a homage — to the Polanski version at the end.
Everyone I spoke to in the theatre last night enjoyed themselves and there was a great, engaged atmosphere. Some of my Shakespeare expert pals were disappointed but I think they may have seen fewer truly heinous Macbeths than I have. I was a bit scared and not at all bored, which was a result and I loved the Macbeths themselves.
Macbeth the play has the lot: kings, witches and murder so why do directors mess it up so often? Anyone would think it was cursed.