Richmond Theatre, 30/10/02
What is it that turns a normally respectable school teacher into a rejuvenated teenager for a few hours during a wet & (very) windy half-term holiday?
I'll tell you - and it's nothing to do with memories of studying the "Scottish Play" for "O" level English, either!
Having had my original booking form get lost in the post, resulting in my having to phone the theatre every day in the hope of being able to get a "return," it was a great relief to set off from Dover at 9am for the 4 hour (!) train journey up to Surrey ("leaves on the line," you know). As I'd never been to Richmond before, I wanted to get there in plenty of time to find the theatre, collect my ticket and have a bite to eat before the performance. Fortunately, I arrived an hour before curtain-up, ascertained that the theatre was 5 minutes walk away & found a super Irish pub which had decent Guiness & served an excellent chicken burger with cheese & bacon - just the job to set me up for the rest of the day.
Feeling pleasantly replete, & resisting the temptation to have another pint, I strolled round to find the magnificent facade of the Richmond nestling snugly on the edge of the Green. For those of you who are into architecture, this theatre was designed by Frank Matcham & is well worth a visit in its own right, apart from the added attractions of a certain Mr. Bean & co..
Having taken a few photographs of the exterior, it was now time to collect my ticket & programme - a nervous time as, after all the hassles I'd had in booking, I was convinced there'd be a glitch & that no ticket would be waiting for me, but I eagerly ventured in.... There were a couple of people being served at the kiosk, but no queue, so I paused to admire the decorations in the foyer. As I did so, a chap passed by me, dressed casually in a black T-shirt & headed for the back of the theatre - you've guessed it - it took me 30 seconds of double take to realise that I'd just come within 3 feet of "our hero" & not realised it! (Bugger!!!! ) I really must be more alert in future, instead of stopping to admire the plasterwork mouldings......
Fortunately, there were no problems in getting my ticket, programmes or posters, so I headed on into the theatre itself in order to find my seat. Now, I suffer from vertigo at the best of times & am also getting over from a bad bout of labyrinthitis & otitis media, so I was concerned when I realised my seat was in the back row of the upper circle - ouch - but I made it, on hands & knees - & concentrated on the ceiling until curtain up. The stage was set.....
The set was basically circular with a real fire (come home to Wales?) right smack bang in the centre - perfect for the 3 weird sisters to dance around & chant their invocations. At this stage, the main stage was partially obscured by a veil of black muslin, and the sound of a howling wind permeated up to the gods, increasing the eerie atmosphere - my skin crawled and not just from vertigo! Following the customary effects of thunder & lightning, the curtain rose and the main action began with a fight scene featuring some impressive swordplay. The costumes were a mixture of 20th Century military uniforms, mainly army-style, but I'm sure I spotted a couple of RAF greatcoats in there as well. (Curiously, Donald's 2 sons were wearing our school's "blues" uniform - I wonder if our RSM knows...?) Sadly, the photographs in the programme were taken during rehearsals so there are no shots of the cast in costume. I hope that the London programmes will remedy this as the wardrobe & make-up departments have done a brilliant job & deserve recognition. The weird sisters' costumes were quite vampish - long satin affairs, but were cleverly disguised at times by their wearing of trenchcoats over the top - very effective. Sean Bean's costumes were similar in style to the other soldiers', but included a lot of leather (steady girls, it gets even better...); super looking armour - that I want to get for the next time I go live role-playing, and an interesting chain-mail vest (I've already got one). An addition to the play is a "coronation" scene, which is stunning as Macbeth's cloak is transformed into a royal standard and the robes & jewellery looked fabulous - even from where I was, way up in the gods! Admittedly, the view was not the best from there - in Act 4 Scene 1 the weird sisters conjure up 3 apparitions which tell Macbeth his fate (I'm sure you all know the plot), but I couldn't see them. This may be deliberate, i.e. they were left to our imagination, or it could be that they were out of my line of sight, I'll have to wait till the next time I see the production to find out. I also couldn't see the top of the balcony so when the ghosts of all Macbeth's victims gathered to watch his demise, all I could see were their feet; likewise, the production of the severed head was beyond my vision on this occasion.
The acting by all concerned was superb throughout. My only criticism concerns one or two of the longer soliloquies where I didn't agree with the phrasing - or maybe I should say that it didn't agree with the way my old English Master taught it when I was a schoolgirl? I felt that some of the pauses were in the wrong places, but I suspect this is the directors doing, since it happened in the speeches of all the main characters. Sean was excellent (as always,) but I have to say that Samantha Bond was awesome - the best Lady M. I've ever seen - 100% spot on! Julian Glover played Duncan and the porter and was very regal, then extremely funny, exactly as it should be.
Music, lighting & other effects were all used to great effect to maintain the atmosphere and increase our anticipation of what was to come. Banquo's ghost was really scary & realistic and I liked the way the English scene was set by having an English flag & a picture of the Houses of Parliament in the background. Another nice touch was that Siward's (English) men had guns as opposed to swords and they were the only ones to wear DPM (camouflage) uniforms, although Siward himself was all in black.
The highlights were numerous, but include the very well choreographed fights and the bedroom scenes. In one of these Lady M. shows she's the boss by straddling her husband and laying down the law - this caused the lady sitting next to me to mutter "lucky b*tch" under her breath, as well as making other comments which I dare not repeat. Even more provocative than this, was the scene with the weird sisters where they emerge from within (sic) the bed to drape themselves around Macbeth whilst prophesising. (I know Chris said "no knicker throwing", but some sunglasses and/or a bottle of baby oil would be useful here, as this is where Sean reveals a pretty impressive 6-pack, which is where I began to be grateful that I'd seen it for the first time at a distance, the shock would have been far too much for a 41 year old to take otherwise - YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!!
After the performance I did not try to
find the stage door for autographs etc.. It was a matinee performance
so the cast had only a short time to grab a bite to eat / drink
before doing it all again, so I'm sure the last thing they'd want
is to be pestered by "women of a certain age" who should
know better in any event. Having said that, I got talking to 3
ladies during the interval, who were planning on doing just that,
so I showed them my SAS membership card & gave them the address,
so we may have a few more members soon.
So now you know exactly why I felt like a quivering adolescent 14 year old, coming out of the theatre. As a teacher of secondary age students, I though I understood the girls in my boarding house. Now I can emphasise with them when they go all gooey because their favourite pop star is on television! (I blame it on an early menopause, myself!) To say I enjoyed the play would be an understatement! Suffice it to say that I couldn't wait until January 18th to do it all again, so I've already booked for the matinee performance on December 14th. as well - the day after school breaks up for Christmas - so if anyone else is going on that day, let me know & we can meet up for a drink during the interval - unless, of course, I'm off for a very cold shower.......
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