Macbeth played by Jonathon Slinger, who was well reviewed as Richard III in the last histories season at the RSC.
A brand new theatre with which to play and certainly the RSC have used every aspect possible in their production. But Macbeth spoke true when he described ‘merely players’; the production failed to impress. The ideas worked, as ideas, but the execution was poor – perhaps in time the polishing of nightly performances will prevail and create an inspiring show. But not yet, and not for a while. (For me to review accurately the following must contain many spoilers.)
The audience’s expectation of three witches attending in a puff of smoke was brilliantly revoked by three children hanging like rag dolls from ropes with innocent reverberated voices. The woe of child actors will always be, however, that even if they perfect their lines (which they didn’t) and remember all their direction, their characterisation does not feel intuitive or consistent; they rarely maintain a character throughout. (We had a cheekily grinning ghost and a spectacularly unhorrific slaughter of Child Macduff.) Type casting, which the casting of children must usually be, can work in Hollywood, but not in Shakespeare. The scene when they first meet Macbeth and Banquo works only if the witches appear intangible, instead the children seemed vulnerable, present and too real. It was as though Macbeth were in control of the scene, prompting, and the children replying. There was no dizzying confusion as the witches vanished and reappeared. It was too stilted and slow-paced. The children used dolls to suggest some sort of voodoo magic, they were a bit freaky, more a hindrance to the scenes. The children walked around holding them, but made little dramatic use of them except to suggest the characters they spoke of. Not creepy.
Madness. For me, Macbeth’s tyrannous progression is from ‘vaulting ambition’ to all-engrossing insanity, in partnership with a manipulative, beguiling wife. Lady Macbeth was most certainly ancillary in this production, confirming for Macbeth what he already wished to do; in some productions the Macbeths are presented as equals, or even Lady Macbeth as the more powerful. Lady Macbeth here was fine. Her sleep walking speech was fine, she captured some of the insanity, it was a little bit scary, it was quite mad, though it was without climax (the same can be said of the play). She was quite manipulative. She was very aristocratic with a hint of Scottish in her voice, sometimes. I liked her sort of crazy evil laughter at the dinner party. I liked the repetition of that scene with and without Banquo.
Macbeth seemed to have been directed to progress from a not-convincingly brave soldier, naively taken in by three children, whom he neither seemed frightened by, nor particularly aghast at their presence (in fact, it felt as though he were expecting the kids to mess up – he spoke patronisingly to them), to a babyish King and finally to a middle-aged man who is a bit fed up with life. His ‘strut the stage’ speech was projected from the top of a 7m ladder – I think to suggest him standing up on cattle battlements looking down to Birnham wood (four tree like leafy branches brought on by Mrs Macduff and her three children – their ghosts were Malcolm’s army). Whilst his elevated position removed him from the stage and thus he transcended metaphorically the players he spoke of, he spoke as one who just cannot be bothered, cannot continue living. There was no sudden moment of eloquence in the madness, which instigates the result of catharsis, as the hero comes to the realisation that he cannot go on living. The magic of the speech can silence the audience into poised stillness; if well executed no one dares cough. People spluttered during this. The speech did not feel resultant, like it had come from frantic thoughts, or even from any remembrance of his murderous intents. Preceding the speech, every movement Macbeth made on the ladder meant his sword clanged against it. Irritating.
The cellos were fantastic. Awesome dissonance created, super technical playing.
The tour around the new theatre was more magical than the performance. I preferred the Court Yard theatre to see shows at. Row C in the Circle has a very uncomfortable seat, although the view was good, and I am glad I only paid for a £5 16-25 ticket. After The Tempest, Romeo and Juliet (twice), As You Like It and King Lear… well, it was a disappointment.
Let me know how you found the performance in the comments below. Have you seen the new theatre?
Photo source: The Good Review