Milton Keynes isn't exactly the place you would think Great Theatre would come from. I was Dubious. After all, this is the land of Concrete Cows, Sculpture from the 70's. Well, I admit, when we finally arrived, I was completely wrong. Lovely theatre, big, comfortable seats. Things were looking up.
We sat down, a curtain in front of us, looking like a camouflage screen - you could see through it, what was going on? Pass around the mint imperials. One minute, my friend and I are sitting chatting about the play, the theatre ("Have a sweet, where's my bag...") then WHAM! No lights fading, no introduction, just one sodding great big FLASH and all the lights go off. Pitch black. Then orange light, flames, through a sheer curtain, and the witches come on singing.
What words can I use to describe this play, and Sean's performance? Passionate. From the heart. Exhausting. Turbulent. And Anger - he gave Macbeth so much anger. I've seen the role done as "The Tortured Hero succumbs" before, but Sean's interpretation is completely different. Amazing what you can do with a script purely by interpretation: his Macbeth is so ruddy ANGRY, in big capital letters: "totally bloody well cheesed off". That he's done all these foul murders, and still nothing is going right. Emotional - his Macbeth isn't a cold fish, he's - we're back to it again, Passionate. The consummate soldier, and someone who enjoys his pleasures.
There is a lot of eroticism and passion in this play. The first scene in bed with Lady M and Macbeth is very reminiscent of a scene in Lady Chatterley, the first time Connie stays at Mellors' cottage for the night. This first scene was emotionally charged - but a second was just plain erotic. It's much later in the play, and Macbeth is in his bedroom when the three witches appear again, and he demands to know how and why and what they are up to. They are all over him, and he is all over them; Sinuous as Snakes, those women: an awful lot of writhing goes on at that point. How did they Do a scene like that? There's the inevitable imagery of serpents and their connection with Evil; it's excellently done, but seeing as at that point Sean is covered in three lithe young women, whose hands don't hesitate to roam *everywhere* and is doing a male equivalent of a heaving bosom, it was a ruddy miracle Sean got the lines out at all!
Samantha Bond: Another wonderful interpretation. Lady M transformed from Jacobean Lilith-esque Un-natural woman to Modern Feisty and Equal Partner. This couple "enjoyed" each other, and there's that word again: they enjoyed a *passionate*, stormy, physical relationship. Her death off stage was a huge scream sounding like someone falling down a well, and then THUNK.
Julian Glover: He towered over everyone else in being the Classical, Shakespearean, Thespian, very much in the traditional sense. It went down well in this role, since it contrasted so well with the very different nature of the production. He made Duncan a kindly, honourable Archetype of a monarch; but in this time and place, a fish out of water. He was humorous as the Porter in a paper crown, with a Scottish accent that wavered from broad Glasgow to Highland caricature.
Banquo: Solid performance, one of the best in the show.
Macduff, strong acting again.
Lady Macduff. A brilliant role - she was so much the fussy helpless tired housewife. She played it wearing a dressing gown and slippers, pregnant and exhausted. Her son was the usual charming little angel, but he avoided the trite Little Lord Fauntleroy stereotype that this part often has.
Malcolm. A cold fish. Wet. Brilliantly acted like that, deliberately. "This is how Royalty REALLY is." He played it like someone so bored by the tedium of having to be Royal, but damned sure everyone knew he was the lawful heir.
Witches. They played crones wonderfully, and the sinuous bit later on.....
The imagery was played down. In most traditional productions the visual imagery is played up, sometimes to excess. Here the visions were all internalized, and the final scenes, where a whole series of nightmares appear to Macbeth, including the eight kings who proceed from Banquo's line, taunting Macbeth in his failure to acheive his ultimate goal, are seen by Macbeth in round mirrors that the witches are shining in his face. It's a great tactic, since it lit Sean's face and forced attention onto Macbeth's reaction, to his internal nightmare. He is a very re-active Macbeth, not pro-active.
Oh, and blood. There was a LOT of blood. Blood features largely in Shakespeare's text, but this was one aspect of the imagery they didn't play down.
I thought the scenery changes were one of the best things about the production. It was done seamlessly. Edward Hall's vision is complex, there is a lot going on in this play, and some of the scene shifts are done in seconds. The later battle scenes are done with devices such as shining torches into the audience, which hides entrances and exits, or flashes of lightning. Earlier ones, such as the banquet scene, are achieved by cast members bringing on tables and chairs - adding to the atmosphere of the *domestic* nature of the preparations.
The lighting was stunning. Once again, the
banquet scene stands out. It was lit eerily, white light, the
goblets on the table shining in an other-worldly fashion. The
people arrive, and it's as though we've faded in from a supernatural
world back into the *real* one.
The whole play is about contrasts between reality and vision, natural and supernatural, so it worked brilliantly with the plot.
The scene is timeless. I don't normally like modern dress productions, but this one was so totally transformed from traditional Shakespeare, and wasn't overtly *modern*. Impressions: Timeless, Another place, Military, Stark, Dark. I reckon almost every Macbeth production is described as dark, but this one was Physically dark. Lots of black, illuminated by vivid shafts of light.
I know other people have described them as such, but the uniforms were not remotely SS to me, they looked like standard RAF issue. :)
Samantha B's costumes had something of the fairy story in them, a couple of 1930's bias cut slinky affairs, the others like a 1940's version of the period costume. All high collars and A line flowing skirts. It was certainly NOT modern dress. Think of the Evil Queen in Snow White.
The short hair is necessary. Give Sean long hair, and people would compare this to "Sharpe" on stage. The Buzz cut goes with the role. Sean's Macbeth can only have that one haircut.
Fights - stunning. Sean really can fight well. Exhausting, totally exhausting. And no one flunked. He dies very, very well. :)
If I have to give a favourite scene, it will have to be one straight from Edward Hall's imagination: The coronation scene, a contrivance, but a necessary one. Visually completely, utterly utterly, perfect. Macbeth and his perfect Queen. Like one of those Victorian mock-medieval Gothic paintings. A pre-Rapahaelite sort of look. Pride cometh before a fall, but Macbeth has his moment of Glory. Every micro-inch the king. Look what you have, Scotland. Duncan was kindly, his son is a wet fish: Macbeth may be ultimately evil, but my goodness he can appear as the Consummate King. This man had the potential to be the Greatest Good, or the Greatest Evil. It's a pivotal moment in the plot, and is the final scene before the interval. From here, it's all down - but just see, audience, how it *could* have been. A huge Scottish lion drops down on a flag, and it works perfectly.
Final soliloquy scene, Sean doing his "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow....it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." Spoken; like all the soliloquies, direct to the audience. Masterful. For this one, he sits in a chair, and assumes a totally, utterly despondent pose. It's all completely pointless. (Not the scene- how Macbeth sees his life!!). He finishes "full of sound and fury, signifying NOTHING."
Sean's natural voice and accent was the only one he could have done this role in. Trying to do RP with the speed and passion of how some of his lines were delivered would have been well nigh impossible. I remember watching rehearsals for a scene during the filming of Extremely Dangerous in Manchester, and seeing how totally immersed Sean became when the cameras finally rolled for a take. It was just like that - Sean didn't just get into the role, He FLUNG himself into it. It was such an utter pleasure to see him perform in a whole production through from beginning to end, rather than a *constructed* thing like a film or TV show which is filmed in bits over a long period. I am sure he absolutely loves the role as well, the sheer pleasure from the applause at the end was all over his face - an exhausted but brilliantly beaming smile. Such feedback is so rare when you are doing films and TV.
The final irony has to go to the "credits"
page of the Macbeth Program. There are "thanks" to various
parties, and then "Grateful thanks": including The Wessex
Bed Company. For that Witches scene, Sean, my utter, and complete,
Ultimate Thanks. I applaud you.
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