A crack of thunder explodes the giddy anticipation of a night at the theatre. A few nervous giggles, furious shushing sounds and shifting in chairs commences, blessedly over in seconds. The Richmond Theatre stage is dimly lit with the small shaft of light, revealing 3 lovely young women in a tight embrace, reciting one of William Shakespeare's most famous scene openers. "When shall we three meet again..." The embrace is broken to give way to a roaring fire, Hell's Cauldron come alive at the will of these three. Chanting and dancing build to a scenario of warriors in battle dress, moving in slow-motion, their blades reflecting the brilliance of victory, and the quicksilver eagerness of human nature bent on slaughter. From a doorway walks Macbeth, crossing the fire into the battle armoury of the Weird Sisters, With economy and delicacy, they dress him in leather, while he addresses his newly-adopted steel with the benediction and genuflection of a warrior prepared to kill for King, country and savage desire. A primal battle royale takes place, swords clashing, shields being attacked and finally, Macdonald being dealt the fatal blow by Macbeth, who then climbs the tower to impale Macdonald's bloody head on a spire. Ladies and gentlemen, a cracking great, spectacular introduction to Macbeth!
Said to be Shakespeare's shortest play in the canon, this production comes in at two hours. In the eight (yes, that's right, eight!!) times that I saw this play at the Richmond Theatre, the pace never flagged and the story was conveyed with both intimacy and urgency, like all great passions. It is a production that is not delivered with the annoyingly arch sentiment that this is good medicine that tastes horrid. No dry soliloquies, full of drawn-out "acting", no pretensions of high-brow intellectual analysis. Dear Old Will wrote for the masses, and his savvy for what a contemporary wanted to see and feel would rival that of any Hollywood market analyzer. A healthy dose of sex and violence makes this tale as fresh and up-to-the-minute as Gangster No. 1 and The Sopranos.
Macbeth's and Banquo's encounter the Weird Sisters sets their agendas immediately. Both are initially jovial about the predictions, that Banquo will be the father to a line of kings, whilst Macbeth will become the monarch. This sets the flame of his ambition (Stars hide your fires) ablaze and the lust with which he covets the crown is so evident when Duncan crowns Malcolm Prince of Cumberland. The disappointment and resentment are clearly evident, yet he plays the jovial host and good fellow to all present.
Lady Macbeth has her own set of plans put forth upon the news of the Weird Sisters' prophecies. She is an ambitious woman, a product of a time where the limits of her gender made accession to the throne a virtual impossibility, so her prayer for strength to channel her desires into action is a thrilling example of estrogen thrown sky-high to the cosmos. Enter Macbeth into this ecstatic brew of wanton abandon, and their chemistry scorches the sheets with white-hot desire, murder as aphrodisiac. After yet another flaming discourse after the main courses of the banquet, the plan is in motion, with Banquo becoming quite leery of his friend's open admission of want of the throne. Murder, blood, accusations, incriminations, recriminations, culminating in a divine coronation with the Macbeths being (supposedly) where they want to be. Part 1 ends!!
Commencing with the start of the celebration day and the dinner to come, Macbeth already appears plagued by visions of horror and doubt. With the hit on Banquo, (but not Fleance) accomplished, Macbeth's unnerving descent into overwhelming guilt and wretched excess proceed with rapidity. Commanding the Weird Sisters to show him the fate that awaits him, he is both seduced and repulsed by what he sees. Power is sexy, glorious and erotic, its consequences equally ugly, defeating and virulently unappealing. Finally set mad by the ersatz declaration of invincibility (the wood moving and a single foe being not of woman born), his siege of assassins on Macduff's household lays bare his bloodlust as unbridled corruption. Lady Macbeth's descent into suicidal despair is chilling and heartbreaking. With Malcolm and Macduff prepared to do battle, the stage is set for a showdown of epic proportion, tinged with the futile grief that Macbeth exudes upon hearing of the death of his wife. With the prophecies unfolding before him, Macbeth's final battle against Macduff ends with an eerie reference to the play's beginnings, with Macduff impaling Macbeth's head on the tower spire, his bloody crown offered to Malcolm. Part 2 concludes!!
The cast for this show was absolutely first-rate.
Barnaby Kay brought a youth and vigour to the role of Banquo
not usually hinted at in the text. His body conveyed his growing
dread at what Macbeth is planning, and the relationship he has
with young Fleance is warm and loving. We should all be so fortunate
to have as devoted a dad calm our fears and save our lives. Mark
Bazeley's Macduff is a man who has no ambitions for the throne,
and is a dutiful subject. His chilling screams upon receiving
the news that his wife and children are all dead spoke volumes
for the body blow such grief can manifest. There were a number
of children playing Fleance and Young Macduff, and by far the
best Young Macduff was Aaron Johnson, with his mock soldiering
and pseudo command of the household in his father's absence.
Lady Macduff, as portrayed by Claire Swinburne, conveys with a
mere twinkle in her eye and a baleful look heavenward, the awful
predicament of being a battlefield widow, wondering when Macduff
will return. Her horror and agony at witnessing her son's execution
is truly painful to watch. Julian Glover's Duncan is regalness
personified. The crown lies with an effortless ease upon his
head, his manners impeccable, his sense of duty and decorum an
art to behold. Conversely, as The Porter, his manner is so bawdy
and ribald, with a large dram of satanic glee. Only please, don't
give this lad your hanky if he's been drinking! A mention must
be made of Ian Pirie as Seyton, Macbeth's King of the Cutthroats.
Decked out as some brutal Essex Boy, the single-mindedness of
his intent is never in question. He excels at his work!
Samantha Bond's Lady Macbeth is a breath-taking study of feminine power to be feared and exhalted! Always in command of the stage, her body is all curve and sinew, like a panther scouting fresh game. No poor, put-upon miss is she, but a woman who effortlessly declares that she would kill her suckling babe for the shame of Macbeth not proceeding with their murderous plot. Her initial high at achieving Duncan's demise diminishes once she truly realizes how hell-bent and reckless Macbeth can be. By the time of the coronation, Samantha's look of watchful distrust of her husband's nobility is clearly evident. I wept every time Samantha finished her final soliloquy, as it was a pitiful, aching depiction of a fabulous mind and heart torn asunder, drowned in blood, incapable of gasping a sane thought again. Bravo, Your Ladyship!
And Sean. great Glamis, worthy Cawdor! From the moment he appeared out of the mists, he is unforgettable, completely watchable and utterly compelling. His sensual delight in his Lady is undiminished, and their first meeting sets a tone of explicitly delicious play. When the fantasy image of the dagger occurs, there is no doubt that Macbeth is seeing a blade, and is frightened by the physical manifestation of his homicidal intent. The speech that comes out is a bit rushed at times, but some of Macbeth's statements would be lost in ponderous, over-ripe tones. Murder and mayhem are chaotic, not times for lugubrious pacing. His Yorkshire accent matched perfectly the untamed masculinity of Macbeth's presence during the play. Sean carries himself with the command of a man in charge, yet in the presence of his fears, a cowering boy, begging for someone to turn the light on. The expertise in sword-play was a marvel to behold, and the naked appreciation of the Weird Sisters' appearance in his bedroom and the resulting seductive trance dance of desire and doom showed Sean both immensely willing and unwilling to face his future. After this, Sean's depiction of a fractured psyche adrift in a sea of blood and manic survival was wondrous and mournful. Knowing what the outcome was, I still cried for Macbeth when he died, both for the loss of a once-great warrior and the knowledge that the play was over, no more scenes with Sheffield's finest.
To Edward Hall, I can only say thank you
for your vision, wisdom and great good humour. This is indeed
a Macbeth that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, full
of sound and fury, signifying a truly magnificent theatre experience.
Return to Macbeth Reviews
Return to Main Macbeth Page
Return to The Compleat Sean Bean