Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Another Scottish Play

In one of my variants of a perfect world, theatre would be a hell of a lot cheaper ad more accessible than it is in Australia - in particular, there would a a different Shakespeare ready for the viewing on stage every two or three months. Living in England was bliss - I could get to one of the Bard's plays once every few weeks with the Barbican and the West End supplying regular fare. I'm still to see a play at Stratford-upon-Avon or at the Globe Theatre on London's South Bank (and they're on the bucket list of things to do), but I'm very pleased I have the means to make a few Shakespeare's each year.

Over time, I've seen some incredible performances. Iain Glen as Henry V (he's currently playing Lady Mary's slimy newspaper fiance on Downton Abbey), a Midsummer Night's Dream done at the National Theatre done in a pool of water six inches deep with a contortionist playing Puck. Robert Stephens as King Lear - only a few weeks before he died...the list goes on.

In Australia, superlative Shakespeare is a little harder to come by. Ewan Leslie's Richard III at the MTC two years ago was phenomenal. The other performance that comes to mind was another Midsummer Night's Dream that the Bell Theatre Company did about ten years ago - set in WWI, it was one of the funniest renditions I've had the honour of seeing.

I've also seen some dire performances - a Troilus and Cressida that was wrong in just too many ways (naked middle aged actors all over the place - may have not been so disturbubg if these guys had some clothes on). I also remember snoring through an Antony and Cleopatra recently, the static performances doing nothing for me.

It's also taken me a bit to get used to Shakespeare being done with Australian accents. Ten years ago this feature of Australian theatre disturbed me no end, but after nearly a decade listening to RADA and LAMBDA trained received pronunciations, it took a bit to get my ear around it. I'm a bit more forgiving these days.

So, with a love of Shakespeare, have dangled in front of me a chance to win a few tickets to see the Bell Shakespeare's Macbeth, of course I entered. All I had to do is provide my favourite Shakespearean quote and give my details.

Too easy - gotta be in it to win it. I jotted down the words, "The lunatic, the lover and the poet are of imagination all compact." (Midsummer Night's Dream , Act V scene I) gave my email address and pressed send.

A few weeks later, an email arrived. I'd won two tickets. Result!

Daft thing is that almost anybody can pull a favourite quote from Shakespeare - I have many, but I've always loved this one. Part of me would love this on my tombstone. I could have spouted something from Lear, or Romeo and Juliet, or Henry V, or The Tempest, or Richard III... it appears that going for a lesser known quote worked for me.

Next thing, find somebody to go with me. Shoving it up on facebook, Kitt came back within minutes and said she'd take the ticket.

And last night, the day had finally arrived.

Since the dire Troilus and Cressida a few years ago, I was rather reticent to see this version of the Scottish Play. I chose not to read any reviews or delve into what Bell and his actors were up to for this production.

Kitt and I were pleasantly surprised - made better by the fact that the tickets were free and third row seats lovely and centra.

Though not a perfect Macbeth it was very, very good. Set on a sloping grassy feild with next to no props, the actors really delivered. Macbeth came across as likeable at first, driven to his final bloody acts by ambition and greed, though still keeping a touch of humanity. Lady Macbeth was superlative - sexually manipulative, on fire at the start, a truly broken women at the end.

Costumes are one of the Bell Shakespeare's strengths normally - all greatcoats and boots for most performances - and this was no different - though I couldn't get over the job lot of jeans they got from Dimmey's (think Best and Less or Primark) which did absolutely nothing for any of the actors. The Doc Martens were cool, on the other hand.

The dinner party scene where Banquo's ghost turned up stole the show for me. Using most of the characters in stage you got to see what was going on with everbody - styled to perfection. How they incorporated Banquo and the spectral elements of the play was truly inspired.

My favourite bit of the play was what they did with the witches. I've seen some shockers over the years, children used as the witches (very creepy) women with beards (just wrong), traditional witches (boring). This time they appeared to get it right. They used one actress to play the witches, using voice manipulation and physical theatre to give her power. Imminently watchable, haunting the witch was one of the best things about the play.

Also, in line with most modern Shakespeare, there was a few double ups of characters. The witch played Seward and MacDuff's son. Duncan doubled as the Porter (and botched it if you asked me - the second half of the speech was fine, but one of Shakespeare's best lighter moments had me sitting there going"WTF?!")

Other than the Porter's speech being cocked up (topless middle aged man with bad tattoos - never a good look) the only other thing that got me was the fact that half of Macbeth's speeches were delivered in a crouching position. It was just a bit strange. There were some great elements of physical theatre in the performance, but there was just a little bit too much crouching for my liking. The "is this a dagger" speech, inparticular, delivered from a contortioned position came across as a bit contrived.

In all, a very enjoyable, quite likable performance of Macbeth with some machinations of brilliance in places and so 'meh' moments in others. For free tickets, I certainly can't complain.

Most surprising of all - I studied Macbeth for my final year at high schoo, nearly 30 years ago - it's amazing how something you learned so long ago can stick in your brain, so bloody, bold and resolute is the information. After having Macbeth thrown down my throat for most of year twelve (just as we did King Lear in year eleven, still my favourite Shakespeare, and Romeo and Juliet, delived by a frustrated actress of an English teacher in year ten) Shakespeare has somehow entered my soul as an aspect that delivers sustenance and warmth on a regular basis.

Long may it continue.


Kath Lockett said...

I studied Macbeth in year twelve as well and, to be honest, it was all thanks to the brilliance of my teacher that made me enjoy it.

Ever since then (and esp at uni) I found Shaky a really hard - and unfun - slog, so I admire and envy your love of his work.

The Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Pand,

I'm sure you recall my "Shakespeare Is Rubbish" post - in fact you commented on it.

As you said - we will have to agree to disagree on the Bard.