Tuesday night at Richmond was my first viewing of the play. I'd read all of the fan reviews from Milton Keynes, so on some levels I knew what to expect. To see the play for yourself is something completely different, and I was spellbound from the opening crash of thunder to the last words spoken. I loved the setting and the costumes. I've seen a number of Shakespeare's plays on stage (most at the RSC), with quite a variety of interpretation. For me, ultra-modern costume/sets work just as well as the more traditional ones. Sean's outfits in particular look superb, as do Lady Macbeth's lovely dresses. The mix of militaristic styles seemed just right to convey a timeless setting, not any one place but evocative of any conflict situation.
The whole production is extremely well thought-out, and with fairly minimalist sets and dramatic use of lighting. You really focus on the protagonists. The main set, which remains intact throughout the play, consists of a central "tower", with large double doors at the base. Either side of the tower are steel-effect walls, with inbuilt ladders, and steps sweeping up either side from the front of the stage. This provides a very versatile arena, which is then "dressed" depending upon the scene. When the witches appear at the beginning, a fire appears through a grate centre-stage. When the Macbeths are in their private apartments or bedchamber, this is represented by a large bed wheeled to centre-stage. Other scenes employ a large throne-like chair, and a large dining table and chairs. I like this approach very much, as it allows a more complex, robust main set to be designed, rather than have what amounts to two-dimensional scenery panels raised and lowered.
Sean has a wonderful commanding stage presence. It's difficult to tear your eyes away from him, even if someone else is speaking (and not just for the obvious reason :-). He runs the gamut of emotion, and becomes truly terrifying as his "reign of blood" becomes ever worse. The dynamic between Sean and Samantha as Lady M is electrifying - a passionate relationship, eventually ripped asunder by their crimes, and when I say passionate, I do mean it :-) In the homecoming scene, where the Macbeths are reunited after he has been made Thane of Cawdor, there is a lot of physical contact between them. Words are only half of the story, and this is what makes this production shine.
Macbeth's relationship with the three witches is also portrayed in quite a sexual manner. Not a passionate, entwining relationship as with his wife, but beguiling, captivating. The witches are played by three attractive young women, and apart from the one scene where they have the masks of crones, they are lithe figures with long black dresses. In the second half of the play, Sean appears shirtless, sitting on the bed, and the witches appear to him again. They writhe around him, and he, in an almost hypnotised state, responds in kind, and it is an utterly sensuous scene.
On a lighter note, at this point it was interesting to see both of his tattoos, the original 100% Blade, and the new Elvish "nine" on his right arm :-) I don't recall anyone mentioning them in previous reports, and I was almost afraid they would have been covered by make-up. In the context of the modern military setting, tattoos and the like are perfectly in keeping, you would expect hard military types to sport them. At this point I must also mention Sean's haircut for the play. His hair is cut very close, a "buzzcut" or "Number One cut". Again, this works extremely well, its a classic military style, and one often sported by men nowadays. It adds that extra bit of menace and ruthlessness.
Apart from Sean, Sam Bond was just superb as Lady M. Her descent into madness was quite frightening, again a very impassioned performance. I've only seen Macbeth performed once before on stage, by a touring company at our local theatre, and that was utterly flat compared to this. Sean in particular makes the language his own, and so easy to follow. I also liked Julian Glover, as Duncan but in particular as the drunken porter. I'd read that scene and it just hadn't parsed with me, but he was hilarious (possibly the only semi-lighthearted scene in the whole play!). I also enjoyed the scene where Banquo's ghost appears at the banquet, sitting in the empty seat. The actor has blood all over his face and his shirt, and he sits there fixing Macbeth with an unwavering gaze. Sean's reaction is amazing, terrified and violent, at one point he vaults over the table to get away. One of the most frightening scenes was the murder of Lady Macduff and her children. Macbeth's "chief thug" is a very nasty piece of work, laughing maniacally with the younger child sitting on his knee, before running him through with a knife. Again, one more example of how this production really brought the story to life. Sean's eventual fight to the death with Macduff, and his despair at his wife's suicide, is heart-wrenching.
Thank you Sean, and indeed the entire cast, this is a tremendous, powerful, vibrant production, truly bringing Shakespeare's prose to life.
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