(Updates with Barbican transfer review)
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.
When I saw this in Stratford, I said I wanted him to stand taller, and look more confident and that is what he is now doing. His Macbeth moves from bluff soldier to unhinged psychopath and he has proved himself 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 as the witches is inspired. The onesies they wore in Stratford are gone and they are clad in striking red frocks instead, the lisping has been toned down and they now really could have wandered in from a nightmare. The special effects work very well indeed and the huge numbers of kids in the audience were clearly loving it.
As Lady M, Niamh Cusack is the excellent, equalling Katy Stephens at the Tobacco Factory earlier this year, praise indeed. She speaks daggers in a thoroughly unsettling performance that pairs well with Eccleston, retaining the perfect diction and voice projection that made her stand out at the RST.
The glass box that drove me mad at the RST because I couldn’t hear anyone but Cusack & David Acton, a fine Duncan, works brilliantly in the Barbican although front row seats are restricted view- a pity as those sitting there will miss some of the best spooky bits.
Some 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 and his volume and clarity have improved but there is still a way to go.
The steeper rake on the auditorium at the Barbican and the proscenium arch layout have ameliorated the issues with sight-lines and the sound amplification also helps but there are still a few issues. As a wise lady in Stratford said: “whatever happened to going to the back of the theatre to check everyone can see and hear?”
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.
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.
The atmosphere in the theatre was fabulous and my nerves at being surrounded by school parties were totally ill-founded, the kids were immaculately behaved and clearly loving it. This is a play that I have seen done badly more than any other so it is great to report that this is a highly effective one, making two great ones this year — round of applause to the Tobacco Factory Theatre for their production– and only one heinous one, the National’s.
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.