Friday, 30 March 2018

Macbeth (RSC)

It seems that this is the year of Macbeth - both the RSC and the National Theatre have productions this reason, and yes, I'm seeing both.(probably. I missed the NT one due to being ill, but do have a ticket for later in the run)

First, the RSC production at Stratford upon Avon - it features Christopher Eccleston  as Macbeth, and Niamh Cusack as Lady Macbeth.

photo of Nimh Cusack and Christopher Eccleston seated on a bed (as  Lady Macbeth and Macbeth)
Publicity photo from RSC site
It is an interesting production. Although unfortunately features a set design which does not take into account the design of the theatre - you don't expect, when buying seats in the 2nd row of the stalls, to have a restricted view of key scenes.. There is a also a rather distracting clock, or timer, which starts to count down when Duncan is murdered. 

The production is a modern dress one, and features Witches who are little girls, (perhaps 9 or 10 years old),  looking deceptively harmless in their identical pink pyjamas, and fluffy slippers/boots with pom-poms on, and each cradling a battered and uncared-for doll. They speak in unison, and there is definitely a slight 'Midwich cuckoos' vibe there.They were certainly creepy, although the down side is that their appearance makes a bigger impact than their words.

three young girls in pyjamas against a dark background, with a digital clock below
The Witches (production photo from RSC)
Eccleston's Macbeth is a blunt, rugged soldier - someone who is good in a crisis, and liked and admired by his peer. In the early stages of the play he appears out of place among the more obviously sophisticated members of the court: there's a telling little detail when he returns from battle and kisses Duncan's hand, he smears a little blood on it, and appears not to notice, or to notice the King's reaction. Later, as he becomes more and more paranoid and isolated, it seems that 'having' to order the deaths of friends troubles him more than the original murder, and his final defeat is as much at his own hand as that of Macduff. However, Eccleston didn't seem wholly confident in the role. I hope this is simply due to us having seen it so early (pre- press night).

Niamh Cusack as Lady Macbeth is good - increasingly frenetic and chillingly ruthless, coming over as an intelligent, ambitious woman, denied the chance to be anything but a decorative hostess, although her sleepwalking scene was, irritatingly, partly played out in the invisible-to-those-of-us-in-the-side-seats gallery above the stage.

Macduff (Edward Bennett) deserves a special mention, his despair as the distraught husband and father as he learns of his family's deaths is heart-wrenching. The Porter (Michael Hodgson) is on stage through almost all of the play - chalking up a tally of the Macbeths' victims, silently assisting various murders find their victims, and lending a ear (whether sympathetic or not) to Macbeth in his soliloquies. He's wonderfully unsettling. 

However, despite lots of excellent actors I felt that the production as a whole was rather patchy and a little incoherent, and the projected clock, counting down, and the selected lines projected on the set distract from, rather than adding to, the play. 

We saw it very early in the run and there were a few stumbles on lines, too. I do have a ticket to see it again, later in the year, and I shall be interested to see how it feels when everyone is more settled into their roles. But despite the flaws, I did enjoy it, and am glad that I'll get to see it again.

No comments: