April 18, 2007



Last night I went to see Macbeth. Performed by the RSC at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon and directed by Conall Morrison, the performance emphasised the intense psychological drama of Shakespeare’s play and provided some interesting interpretative strategies. The most striking of these was the take on the witches. The opening scene sees them and their children murdered by Macbeth’s own hand. Throughout the rest of the play they/ their ghosts are the directing force of the action as they embark on a quest for revenge. In watching Macbeth in performance, I am always interested in how the dinner-party scene with Banquo’s ghost will be enacted. In this production, the manipulation of the scene by the witches emphasises the idea that it is they who are given ultimate power and control. Their continued presence throughout the castle scenes contributes to this idea and enhances the confusing eeriness of the proceedings. Certainly their doubling up as other characters adds a profundity that may have otherwise been lost to Macbeth’s emotive meta-theatrical soliloquies and the sense that ‘life is a stage’. The fact that, as the witches, they perform the porter’s speech also contributes to the confusion and the blurring of gender boundaries throughout the production. Having them read lines which seem, on the page, overtly ‘masculine’ works well here and raises some interesting ontological issues. The question ‘what is a man?’ recurs throughout and is answered by each character in his or her own manner, none it seems being able to reach the ultimate ideal they envisage as the answer. Macduff’s internal struggle as he recovers from the shock of hearing that his wife and babes are murdered is a hugely intense performance and perhaps articulates best the struggle of the whole cast to achieve the masculine principle they so fervently propound. This struggle is seen as a major contributory factor to the onslaught of insanity and mania that forms an overwhelming force in the second half of the production. The frailty of the central characters as they are manipulated by each other and the witches is perhaps one of the main factors behind such an emotionally gripping production. Certainly, the frailty that Derbhie Crotty’s Lady Macbeth demonstrates as a lost soul tossed and turned by fate evokes more sympathy than could perhaps be thought possible for a character speaking such evil words and propelling her husband onto murderous action.

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  1. Martin Eyles

    I must admit that, whilst I have been to the RSC to see things, and whilst I have read through Macbeth and Romeo & Juliet, I have never seen a Shakespeare play live. I gather from your description that, whilst the dialogue is retained, much of the remaining staging is more subject to interpretation. Sounds interesting, maybe I should go see one at some point – anything particularly recommended? On a slight tangent, I quite liked the Shakespeare episode of Doctor Who the other week.

    18 Apr 2007, 23:57

  2. Pete

    I have seen Macbeth a few times over the last thirty odd years, but never have I seen a production that grabbed its audience by the throat quite like this one did, from the very instant the lights went down.

    I have read reviews, good and bad, about Conall Morrison’s Macbeth, and though would I agree that some of the actors own dialects sometimes interfere with the audibility of the oration, I would disagree with any other derisive criticism at the overall plot line and interpretation that has been aimed at this production by some critics.

    The three witches are introduced in the opening scene, and whilst not part of the original play are integral to Conall Morrison’s take on this production, and keep appearing throughout the play, undertaking the role of the fickle hands of fate, helping guide Macbeth towards his inevitable downfall.

    This production is a fast paced, testosterone laced, frightening, and tear rendering, with moments of genuine laughter from the audience, (not just the dutiful titters in the right places from those that know the play inside out).

    The stage backdrop and props are minimalistic to say the least, which I personally think adds to the production, though once the play commences you wouldn’t believe they were minimalistic. The atmosphere and ambiance in each scene is so charged, a true indication of the stage presence and ability of the cast.

    To anyone who may be wondering whether to see this production or not, all I can say is that I took my thirteen year old daughter (yes, teenager!) who’s eyes were riveted to the stage for the entire duration of the play, who didn’t move a muscle or fidget about as she was so caught up in the action, and who would go again at the drop of a hat, she enjoyed it so much.

    25 Jun 2007, 15:46

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