Thursday, July 25, 2013

'Macbeth' by William Shakespeare

25 July 2013

Having heard nothing but good reports about the National Theatre's NT Live screenings of stage shows in cinemas, I thought it was about time I tried the experience myself. The Manchester International Festival production of Macbeth, starring and co-directed by Kenneth Branagh (with Rob Ashford) was such a hot ticket the entire run sold out within nine minutes of going on sale. So the only way I was going to see it was via the NT Live screening last Saturday, when the final performance in Manchester was broadcast to cinemas across the country. It was magnificent – both the production and the experience of watching it live on the big screen. The show was expertly captured with multiple camera angles (including Busby Berkley overhead shots) making it feel almost like being there, but with a much better view and excellent sound that meant you didn't miss a syllable of the text. It was irritating that there were some problems with the synchronisation of the sound and pictures (at least where we saw it at Cineworld in Milton Keynes) but otherwise the screening was technically excellent. Macbeth was performed in a deconsecrated church in Ancoats - a customised theatre space with a long, thin central performance area running the length of the church and faced on both sides by an audience boxed in raked pews enclosed by wooden boards which made them look more like the spectators at a Quidditch match! The floor was rough and muddy, particularly after the opening battle scene had taken place in driving rain – the increasingly dirty hem of Lady Macbeth’s long dress emphasising the gritty reality of the play. This was a brutal, visceral Macbeth – with believably violent swordfights and plenty of Kensington Gore. Kenneth Branagh managed to make Macbeth a real and sympathetic character, while demonstrating a delicacy and precision in the language of the play. Alex Kingston was a powerful Lady Macbeth and the scene in which Ray Fearon’s Macduff learned of the slaughter of his wife and children was achingly poignant. The whole cast were very strong – with Alexander Vlahos particularly standing out as Malcolm.

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