Thursday, April 28, 2011

'Macbeth' by William Shakespeare

28 April 2011

Plenty of familiar faces in the audience but not so many on the stage: the official opening of the new Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, and the opening night of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s first production for the new theatre, on Wednesday was attended by many recognisable figures from the world of the arts. (I am sure it was no accident that the one member of the audience who was singled out to hold a live stick of dynamite was the Shadow Culture Secretary, Ivan Lewis MP.) But Michael Boyd’s ‘Macbeth’ emphasised the RSC ethos of ‘the ensemble’ without the need for any star names (with great respect to the marvellous Jonathan Slinger). The new theatre with its thrust stage and high-stacked seating on three sides, all very close to the action, will seem familiar to anyone who visited the RSC’s temporary Courtyard Theatre, albeit with a more solid, wooden feel to the auditorium. But if you can remember the old RST it’s an incredible transformation. I saw many productions in the old theatre and almost always found it difficult to hear and see the actors clearly (as we were usually in the cheapest seats, high at the back of the gallery). Also, I often felt that the scale of shows in the RST (the set, the costumes, the music etc) swamped the plays themselves and, even though you could appreciate the quality, made for an unsatisfactory experience. I remember the first time I saw a RSC show at ‘The Other Place’ – where the smallness of the space and the lack of a conventional stage and set gave you more direct access to the actors – being overwhelmed by the visceral power of the acting. This is the excitement that Michael Boyd wants to create in the main house by removing the proscenium arch and bringing the audience closer to the actors. Detractors of the thrust stage, including several previous RSC Artistic Directors, say that the result is that no-one in the audience now has a perfect view as there will always be actors with their backs to someone. But I’m not sure I would go back to squinting to make out tiny actors on a distant stage whose words I cannot hear. The opening night of ‘Macbeth’ was a triumph: a bold, uncompromising choice for the first new production in the new theatre, this was dark, violent, distressing tragedy. The acting was excellent, holding my attention throughout with the minimum of set, gimmicks or effects. Replacing the witches with three young children was eerie and disturbing. The three child actors then played Macduff’s children and later appeared as the ghostly reminder of their slaughter, suggesting perhaps that their first appearance represented the ghosts of other children and emphasising the ambiguity of the Macbeths’ childlessness. The murder of Macduff’s children was graphic and horrible – there is a lot of blood in this production. All the cast were great, particularly Steve Toussaint as Banquo, Aislin McGuckin as Lady Macbeth and Jonathan Slinger as Macbeth, whose face and body gave the impression of a brain working overtime and thoughts and moods turning on a sixpence.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home