MACBETH - 23 November 2002

Macbeth is a very grim play and this production certainly brings out the bloodiness, greed and ruthlessness of characters vying for the Scottish throne. The opening clap of thunder leads to the dark wilds of Scotland, seen through a draped gauze, as a fire bursts through the stage floor to reveal the three witches dancing and working their predictions. The circular stage was surrounded by a dark grey cold scaffold which disappears into the darkness at the back of the stage giving the impression of it going on and on. A dark bell tower was at the back of the stage with double doors and above the doors it was headed by spikes on which some heads, including Macbeth's, were later adorned.

The opening battle shows Macbeth victorious and brings him and Banquo in the aftermath to the heath where they are confronted by the witches. Sean Bean was an excellent Macbeth bringing the rugged, brutal, vulnerable, bitter Macbeth to life. His characters progression from his initial hesitance in killing King Duncan, a man who has always been good to him, to the unemotional King giving the order to slaughter Banquo, Macduff and their families was played extremely well. His paranoia and distrust ever increasing as his reliance and desire for the witches prediction to come true consumes him. Sean brought over the anguish and dilemmas of Macbeth, especially in the banquet scene as before his eyes only the dead Banquo appears to him and he tries to make sense of what he sees. The sword fighting training from Lord of the Rings had obviously paid off although he did look as though it was more of a struggle to lose the battle with Edward Moriaty's Macduff and it had to be Macbeth's lack of judgement which caused his death rather than being a weaker swordsman. Sometimes the subtlest move can tell the most and when Duncan named Malcolm as his successor Sean just made the inflection to move forward as he expected to be named and as he pulled himself up his face of the betrayed man spoke more than anyone else on stage. The following section of lighting was very effective as he turned to leave he doubled back on himself speaking alone with a single dusky spotlight on him as the rest of the scene froze . His scenes with Barnaby Kay's Banquo were excellent, both working together conveying a genuine history of comradeship. The chemistry between Sean and Samantha was spot on and again the highs and lows of the Macbeth's relationship as it spirals to destruction was very believable.

Samantha Bond was superb as Lady Macbeth, not a lady one would want to cross. The strong partner in the decision to carry out the killing of Duncan and as Macbeth stands with arms covered in blood and holding the bloody knifes at a loss at what to do she has no qualms in taking the knifes and ensuring no blame falls on them. But this acts continually plays on her mind eventually turning her into a sleeping state of madness, a scene which was exceptional as she tried to wash away her crimes and revealing to the doctor and the servant what should not be spoken about what had passed.

Barnaby Kay's Banquo was excellent as he gradually came to the realisation of what Macbeth was prepared to do to ensure that whilst his predictions would be true that Banquos would not. I particularly liked the banquet scene as Banquo came inconspicuously to the table, with the attention drawn away from his entrance. He was dressed the same as other men and I was only aware of his presence as Macbeth was gestured to sit down and realised that Banquo was already there. He turned around with a blood covered face and silently stalked Macbeth around the room and even over the table leaving Lady Macbeth desperate to pass over her husband strange behaviour before the guests think he had truly gone mad. Barnaby had a great look of steely vengeance and wrath as he silently turned Macbeth's mind into confusion. At the end of act 1 as the Macbeth's are crowned Banquo watches from the scaffolding with a look of hated at what they have done to get there.

In addition to King Duncan Julian Glover provided an excellent turn as the porter, complete with party hat. Edward Moriaty's Macduff came more into his own in the scene with Malcolm as he learned of the death of his family . The whole company was very strong and the company scenes and supported roles blended into the action / story to create a believable tale.

The style of the piece was set in a timeless kind of Scotland which encompassed the military styles throughout the 20th century. Lady Macbeth and the witches wore slinky silky dresses sometimes adorned with long robes for a more formal look. Macbeth ranged from combats to the leather military jacket which showed a rebellious regality to it.

I loved the look of the whole piece, the dark and grimness and in particularly the effects / scenes I liked were; in the banquet scene as Banquo left the stage the lights were just warmed a little and brought the scene back to a reality; the fire which came out of the grate in the stage floor bringing an earthiness to the scenes; the lightening flashes which for a brief instant revealed, at differing times, Banquo, Macbeth and Macduff up in the bell tower (the former an ever existing presence to Macbeth and the latter two holding up heads of the men they defeated respectively); Macbeth's derangement and seeming madness setting in he was no longer bothered or didn't seem to see the bloodied forms of Banquo, Duncan, Lady Macduff and her children as they watched on from the grave waiting for Macbeth to join them.

This production will I am sure not appeal to all but I found it engaging, gritty with an excellent cast and I would gladly make a return trip.

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