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As You Like It

Venue = Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

There is no better place to watch one of Shakespeare’s comedies than Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre on London’s Southbank. Entering the Globe Theatre feels like stepping 400 years back in time. Authentically reconstructed, based on the original 16th century structure, the Globe is an open air theatre, exposed to the elements, pigeons, helicopters and aeroplanes. Naturally lit, the Globe allows its actors to build a rapport with the audience, which is unique to this venue, and works astonishingly well when staging Shakespeare’s comedies. Running alongside Hamlet in Michelle Terry’s debut summer season as Artistic Director, As You Like It sees the same Globe Ensemble cast tackle one of the Bard’s greatest romantic comedies. In a play that already has its characters swapping genders, Michelle Terry’s inclusive, gender-blind casting works to superb comic effect and results in a thoroughly entertaining production.

“Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?”

Some may feel that it is controversial to cast a male actor as Rosalind. She is an iconic role and is given more lines than any of Shakespeare’s other female characters. However, Jack Laskey plays the role so well, it is hard to argue against his casting. Having already played Orlando in the Globe’s 2009 production, Laskey is a wonderful Rosalind. His chemistry between the other characters, particularly Celia, is infectious and delightful. He is believably lovestruck with Bettrys Jones’ Orlando and stays effeminate, even when cross-dressing as Ganymede. It is a casting choice that harks back to the tradition of men playing female roles in early-modern theatre. To counter this, Bettrys Jones plays Orlando. I initially had doubts about Jones’ casting as Orlando, but I was quickly converted. It is a stroke of genius. Seeing such a small actress playing the ‘muscular’ Orlando, wrestling in the play’s opening scene, was absolutely hilarious. Jones’ small stature is constantly exploited to provide some truly funny moments in the play. Jones and Laskey make a delightfully heart warming Orlando and Rosalind. Their relationship is believable, endearing, and a complete joy to watch.

However, it is deaf actress, Nadia Nadarajah who steals the show as Celia. Nadarajah, who also plays Guildenstern in Hamlet, combines British Sign Language with invented signs representing Shakespeare’s archaic language, such as ‘Forest of Arden’, ‘knave’ and ‘Orlando’. Converting Shakespeare into sign language must have been a challenging task, considering the complexities and rhythms of iambic pentameter. It is a testament to the intensive rehearsal schedule that the sign language used in As You Like It felt natural and could be understood. It was truly refreshing to witness BSL being  incorporated into a play and I hope that it encourages more diversity and inclusivity within the arts, with disabilities being represented better. Nadarajah proves that there are no boundaries to making Shakespeare work on stage. Her Celia is perfectly enchanting. She has an irresistible chemistry with Jack Laskey’s Rosalind, solidifying their friendship into a ‘sisterly’ love. This was enhanced by their constant communication and interaction with each other when other characters were speaking. Nadarajah’s mannerisms are wonderfully expressive, particularly as her character gets more exasperated with Ganymede’s outlandish scheming. Her astonished reaction to being asked to ‘marry’ Ganymede and Orlando is hilarious. I loved very minute that Nadia Nadarajah was on stage in both Hamlet and As You Like It. I hope she returns to the Globe in more productions!

Globe veterans Pearce Quigley, Colin Hurley and James Garnon increase the comedy tenfold. Pearce Quigley’s melancholic Jacques is highly entertaining and shows his vast experience at the Globe by interacting with the audience during his monologues. Skulking in the shadows of the stage and dressed in a black velvet suit, he is the perfect choice to play Jacques. Quigley delivers the play’s most famous line; “All the world’s a stage” whilst munching a banana and playfully picks out a schoolboy in the audience for his Seven Ages of Man speech. Quigley is a natural, comedic performer, and his Jacques is a wonderfully playful interpretation of Shakespeare’s mournful character. Colin Hurley’s Touchstone, the fool, is equally amusing, particularly in his bizarre relationship with James Garnon’s superbly sluttish Audrey. Their scenes were incredibly funny, and were some of my favourites in the play.

“All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players”

As You Like It has more songs than any other Shakespeare play and the majority of them were sung beautifully by Tanika Yearwood. The rest were vibrantly performed alongside dances by the ensemble. The usually outdated “hey nonny no” song, hilariously performed as suggestive, romantic ballad between Touchstone and Audrey, had me in stitches. All the songs are authentic instruments, by the Globe’s fantastic musicians, who make the experience of watching a play in this theatre even more magical. Every play ends with a jig, as they did 400 years ago, and As You Like It had the best choreographed, most ecstatic, joyful jig I have seen at the Globe. The audience had a fantastic time and clapped along with the music. The joy that these jigs bring is infectious and it is hard to leave the Globe without a smile on your face.

It is true that most of the comedy in As You Like It is slapstick, but it is a thoroughly charming and incredibly funny production. I felt that this was a better, more accomplished play than Hamlet. But like Hamlet, it is a delight to see a play so embracive and inclusive to gender, ethnicity and disability. I hope these plays pave the way for more diversity, and that other productions follow the Globe’s Ensemble’s example. If these plays provide a glimpse of the Globe ‘s new direction under Michelle Terry, then I applaud it, and highly anticipate what will follow!

RATING = ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

 

Photo credits = Tristram Kenton

 
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Posted by on August 29, 2018 in Theatre

 

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King Lear

Venue = Duke of York’s Theatre

There is a poetical poignancy to Sir Ian McKellen returning to the Duke of York’s Theatre to play one of William Shakespeare’s most challenging roles, King Lear. This is the same theatre that McKellen made his professional West End debut in 1964. Now, 54 years later, at the age of 79, he triumphantly returns to the title role of King Lear. McKellen has often said that this would be the final time that he will be performing Shakespeare on stage. Sir Ian McKellen has become a national treasure, appearing in countless plays and films, most notably playing Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings. It is no surprise that tickets to King Lear quickly sold out. With audiences desperate to witness what many believe will be McKellen’s final stage performance, this is a rare opportunity to watch a true legend performing Shakespeare live on stage. Having appeared in several iconic Shakespeare plays, such as Othello, Hamlet and Macbeth, McKellen is no stranger to the Bard’s work. Nor is he a stranger to the role of King Lear, having played him at the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2007 and at the Chichester Festival Theatre’s production in 2017, before it moved to the Duke of York’s Theatre this summer.

Sir Ian McKellen’s stage presence is mesmerising. As expected with his experience, McKellen is a skilled master of Shakespeare’s language. He speaks his dialogue with proficient fluidity and ease. McKellen is truly outstanding as King Lear, an ageing monarch who unwisely banishes his youngest daughter, Cordelia, whilst his other two daughters, Regan and Goneril, plot to overthrow him. Lear slowly slips into a despairing grief which borders on dementia. Watching Ian McKellen play Lear is tragically sad, because we are so fond of him. His performance is beautifully constructed to add a humanity and naturalism as Lear’s faculties start to decline. There are signs of dementia evident from the start, with angry outbursts, unfinished sentences and long pauses in his dialogue. These all culminate in the play’s most poignant scene, King Lear’s breakdown in the storm; a powerful metaphor for “The tempest in my mind”. This scene is perfectly lit, with rain falling, lightning flashing and the characters on stage being soaked to their skin. It creates a memorable scene, so poignant because it is so heart-breaking to watch the powerful monarch reduced to a frail and vulnerable old man. This vulnerability is carried forward for the rest of the play as Lear slowly loses his mind. McKellen’s performance transfixes the audience. His Lear is captivating, yet it is desperately tragic to see him so weak and fragile. It is an astonishing, spellbinding performance which thoroughly deserved the standing ovation he received.

“I fear that I am not in my perfect mind.”

Sometimes when the lead performance is so strong, the rest of the cast cannot compare and the production can be disappointing. Thankfully, the support cast of King Lear were strong enough to make this a fully rounded, excellent production. James Corrigan was delightfully villainous as Edmund, engaging the audience with his soliloquies, and being charming enough to believably woo two sisters. Danny Webb was superb as the blinded Gloucester and Sinéad Cusack played an excellent Kent. However, it was Kirsty Bushell’s frankly frightening portrayal of Regan that was shockingly memorable. Bushell was sublime in the Royal Exchange Theatre’s The Cherry Orchard earlier this year. She was equally as good in King Lear, sadistically squealing with delight as Gloucester’s eyes were being gauged out. Appropriately set in an abattoir, Bushell’s horrifying pleasure made this scene even more brutal and difficult to watch.

King Lear’s inventive production design included a gangway, cutting through the stalls, on which the actors could enter/exit. This added an intimacy often missing from many West End theatres, with the audience being unusually close to the actors. The set effectively switched from regal opulence in the first half, to a minimalist barren stage in the second half, perfectly mirroring Lear’s mental state. Having a minimalist set in the final act, when Lear is at his weakest, meant that the audience’s attention was not diverted and instead could fully empathise with the tragic demise of Lear’s character. This made the final scene all the more heart-breaking, as there was nowhere for McKellen to hide. You could feel that he was putting his heart and soul into his performance, particularly when he sadly finds Cordelia’s dead body. His agonising grief at finding his youngest, and favourite, daughter dead was heart-wrenchingly moving. This must be an incredibly physically, and mentally, demanding role for a 79 year old to play. However, McKellen has a stamina and grace which defies his age. It is a true triumph. If this is his last Shakespearean role on stage, then what a phenomenal way to end such an illustrious stage career.

It was a real honour to get the opportunity to see a true legend performing Shakespeare live on stage. Sir Ian McKellen’s performance as King Lear is an astonishing achievement and will go down in history as one of his most significant roles to date. His Lear was spellbinding and desperately tragic. It was so heart-breaking, it had me in tears.

I strongly urge everyone to get down to their local cinema to watch King Lear when it is broadcast live on 27th September. Tickets are available here.

RATING = ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Photo Credits = Manuel Harlan

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2018 in Theatre

 

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Othello

Venue = Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

William Shakespeare’s popular revenge tragedy, Othello, forms part of the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre’s summer season. This year, Michelle Terry takes over the reins as the new Artistic Director of the Globe Theatre, after Emma Rice’s unfortunate departure. Terry’s debut season is packed with Shakespeare’s most popular plays and also sees Claire Van Kampen return to direct Othello. Van Kampen has an illustrious history with the Globe theatre as the Director of Music, having composed music for over 50 productions. In addition to directing several productions, she also wrote the critically acclaimed Farinelli and the King for the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, before its transfer to the West End and Broadway. Othello also has Van Kampen making another welcome collaboration with her husband, Mark Rylance, to bring a unique perspective to a much performed play. This collaborative experience speaks volumes in Othello as Rylance steps forward to play Shakespeare’s most despised villain, Iago.

The casting of Mark Rylance as Iago is a masterstroke. Rylance’s Iago is a unique blend of understated subtlety. Mark Rylance is a naturally likeable, genuinely nice person with a softly spoken voice. He is irresistibly charming and constructs his character to be the epitome of “honest Iago”. Rylance’s charm equally captivates the audience, in addition to the characters on stage. During his soliloquies, he teases the audience, building a rapport that subconsciously hoodwinks them into becoming entirely complicit in his plot. The audience are pawns in his game, just as Othello is. Rylance’s Iago remains charming, likeable, funny and endearing throughout the majority of the play. He rattles through his dialogue to make it appear that he is acting off the cuff, rather than having any true malevolent motive. Rylance makes jokes, plays the mandolin, naturally repeats and stumbles over his words, and has instinctive mannerisms, such as wiping his moustache with his handkerchief. He appears on the surface a genuinely human, caring character. When presenting Othello with ‘suspicions’ that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio, Rylance’s Iago honestly looks upset to be the bearer of bad news. When Othello doubts him, Iago appears to be genuinely offended that his friend would doubt his integrity.

When Iago’s façade is thrown aside during the play’s climax, and his actions have gone too far for justification; it is a complete shock to the audience to see Iago’s true colours. As he brutally breaks Roderigo’s neck, Iago’s physical strength and hidden malice are revealed, causing the audience to literally gasp with shock. This results in the audience feeling betrayed and complicit in Iago’s actions. You feel like you have been fooled and played, like Othello. The audience feel responsible for everything that is happening, and helpless to stop it. Knowing that we were also bewitched by Iago’s charm makes the audience feel true empathy for Othello. Full credit needs to be given to Rylance for this accomplished performance as he makes Iago’s character even more puzzling. His motives are more ambiguous than they have ever been, and the audience, like Othello, are left “Perplexed in the extreme” and bewildered as to why Iago committed these horrendous deeds. Mark Rylance presents an exquisitely multi-layered, subtle, and unique approach to playing Iago.

“And what’s he then that says I play the villain,

When this advice is free I give, and honest”

Likewise, American actor André Holland gives an outstanding performance as Othello. Casting an American as the ill-fated Moor may be controversial to some, but Holland speaks Shakespeare’s language beautifully and is the best Othello that I have seen. His passionate devotion to Jessica Warbeck’s Desdemona early in the play is infectious. Holland and Warbeck perfectly render their characters’ innocent adoration of each other. It is a relationship that is so natural, it feels like first love. There is no wonder that Iago’s poisonous accusations have such an effect on Othello. It is easy to see how the smallest doubt would have such a huge effect on somebody so utterly besotted. Holland’s slip into jealousy and torment is similarly believable and is truly heart-breaking to watch. I have seen many productions of Othello and each time I think Othello is an idiot for being so easily fooled. Holland made me understand Othello’s character and feel a deep sympathy for Othello that I have never experienced before. His mortification of being led into jealousy and of killing Desdemona was truly tragic. The fact that he managed to present Othello as a genuinely tragic figure, with multiple helicopters flying overhead during his death scene, deserves the highest praise.

You can’t discuss Othello without discussing the important issues that Shakespeare’s play raises with regards to race. These debates are centuries old, yet feel outdated in the multicultural world we now live in. Van Kampen’s production masterfully sidelines these debates by creating the most diverse casting of Othello that I have seen and proving that Othello isn’t the only Shakespearean character a black actor can play. With Sheila Atim playing Emilia and Aaron Pierre playing Cassio, it is refreshing to see a production of Othello where Othello isn’t the only black character. This completely removes the 400 year old notion that Iago’s main motive is racism. Iago’s soliloquies were also carefully edited to remove a lot of the racist language, as was Emilia’s tirade against Othello; “the more angel she, and you the blacker devil!”. It is Othello’s American accent, rather than his skin colour that marks him out as a ‘foreigner’. In addition to further blurring Iago’s motives, it gives the production a modern feel, despite its authentic setting. Instead of raising issues of race, Van Kampen’s production shines a spotlight as to how talented the actors are. Sheila Atim is a tour-de-force as a bold, resolute Emilia, who completely dominates the final scene. Aaron Pierre gives a blistering stage debut as Cassio who is naturally appealing, rather than being portrayed as a flirtatious ladies’ man.

As I mentioned in my review of Hamlet, the Globe Theatre is a spectacular theatre. Being an authentic reproduction of the Elizabethan Globe Theatre, it has a magical quality about it. There is nowhere better in the world to watch Shakespeare. As usual, the music at the Globe is wonderful, played on authentic instruments. I am glad to see that Van Kampen removed the usually awkward “cannikin clink, clink” song and replaced it with a joyous, salsa-esque dance. The entire cast looked like they were thoroughly enjoying themselves. Desdemona’s mournful Willow Song was also harmoniously sung by both Sheila Atim and Jessica Warbeck, cementing Emilia and Desdemona’s love and friendship. The costumes were also magnificent, even with Mark Rylance resembling Mario in his red cap. Othello’s richly embroidered jacket was gorgeous, and the dresses of Desdemona and Emilia were stunning, particularly the striking gold dress she wears.

This is a wonderfully unique production of Othello that has drawn the crowds because of Mark Rylance’s appearance as Iago. Rylance will doubtlessly split the crowds too, with his likeable, charming, “Honest Iago”.

RATING = ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Photo Credits = Simon Annand

 
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Posted by on August 25, 2018 in Theatre

 

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Hamlet

Venue = Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

There is truly something magical about going to Shakespeare’s Globe theatre in London.  It is an authentically reconstructed replica of the original Globe Theatre, built by the Lord Chamberlain’s men in 1599. The original building burned down in 1613 as a result of cannon fire used during a production of Henry VIII. It was rebuilt the following year, until it was torn down later on that century. Nowadays, for a sum of £5, groundlings can stand and watch a Shakespeare play, or you can pay more to sit in luxury on a wooden bench in the galleries. There is a £2 charge to hire a cushion but it will be the best £2 you will ever spend in your life! Even watching the shortest Shakespeare play can be hard on the derrière! I absolutely love the Globe Theatre and wish I could live there. It has been lovingly restored and truly feels like stepping back in time, 400 years, to Elizabethan England. Every time I go to London, I make sure that I watch a play here. There is something truly special about watching theatre open to the elements, pigeons, planes and helicopters. Hamlet is my favourite play so I made sure that I caught it when the summer season was announced.

The 2018 season of plays introduces Michelle Terry as the artistic director of the Globe, following Emma Rice’s unfortunate resignation. Michelle Terry instantly puts her own stamp on her productions, using the Shakespeare ensemble to employ gender-blind casting, creating a truly diverse cast. Genders are switched, with men being cast as female characters and vice versa. Michelle Terry takes centre stage by playing Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark.

Every production of Hamlet hinges on its casting of the infamous Dane. Michelle Terry delivers a strong performance as Hamlet, but I feel that she raced through the dialogue, resulting in the entire production feeling rushed. This was particularly evident in the fencing match, which turned too quickly into a graveyard. There was no time given for Claudius to deservedly suffer as he died, nor was there any time allocated to Hamlet’s death. She appeared fine one second and was dead the next. The rushed production meant that I didn’t feel much of an emotional attachment towards Michelle Terry’s Hamlet. This is a real shame as she was superb as Rosalind in As You Like It! Hamlet’s slip into madness was also absurd, with her wearing a full clown costume. It made it blatantly obvious that Hamlet was putting on an ‘antic disposition’. Personally, I prefer Hamlets that subtly slip into madness, making the audience question whether his madness is fabricated, or whether the death of his father has truly left him depressed and suicidal. Performing the infamous ‘to be or not to be’ soliloquy dressed in a clown outfit felt ridiculous, rather than moving. There was no possibility of taking this soliloquy seriously when the character is dressed in a full clown costume. This should be a moving speech where Hamlet is deliberating whether he should commit suicide and pondering mortality. It didn’t feel natural; it felt like watching a recital, rather than genuinely watching a character considering death.

In complete contrast to this was Ophelia, superbly played by male actor, Shubham Saraf. Saraf stripped back his performance and hauntingly portrayed Ophelia’s overwhelming grief over her father’s death, caused by her lover. The scene where Ophelia delivers rosemary and other flowers, in remembrance of her father, was perfectly captured by Claudius’ reaction to this sight; deep sorrow and regret. What struck me most was the devastating grief and anger that Saraf displayed by brutally beating his chest and erupting into fits of intense rage. The song that Ophelia sings of her father; ‘he is gone’, is heart-breaking to watch. A blend of anger and despair, it is beautifully performed. Sharaf delivers one of the most striking, memorable representations of Ophelia that I have seen. It will stay with me for a long time!

James Garnon also excelled in the role of Claudius. With him being a veteran of the Globe’s ensemble, I have been a fan of his for a long time. He was a deliciously evil Cardinal in John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi, so I was excited when I discovered that he would be playing Hamlet’s murderous uncle, Claudius. His portrayal of this character was truly unique, making him seem like a nice person that had gone awry, having been corrupted by power. He inserted a likeability and humanity to Claudius’ character that made it seem like he was truly remorseful of his crimes. Saying that, there was a streak of violence to his character that made the audience gasp in shock! I loved this different, entertaining Claudius. He was utterly compelling.

Unfortunately, I found the character of Laertes miscast. I have no problems with a woman playing this role but I struggled to hear any of Bettrys Jones’ dialogue. I was sat on the second row of the lower gallery, quite near to the stage, yet her voice didn’t project very well at all. This was a real problem when the Globe actors have to contend with the noise of jet engines, as a result of the theatre being open to the elements and placed underneath the flight path of Heathrow airport.

There were other things that didn’t quite fit with me either; the representation of Polonius as a bumbling fool, rather than a scheming politician who cruelly manipulates his daughter, being one of them. The strange mix between modern and Elizabethan costume didn’t work for me either. I also didn’t like the bareness of the stage and absence of many props, as I love the traditional props used at this theatre. Because the stage was so bare, there was a complete lack of a heightened feeling of confinement to prompt the line; ‘Denmark’s a prison’. It made the production feel like it was missing political scheming and deception.

However, there was plenty of things to enjoy about this play. As usual, the music at the Globe was fantastic. Glorious brass instruments triumphantly rang out and reverberated across the theatre. The Mouse Trap was a captivating scene, effectively performed  through dance. Where the production truly soars is in its casting of deaf actress, Nadia Nadarajah, who plays Guildenstern, and its incorporation of British Sign Language into the play. This must have caused difficulties considering the archaic language of Shakespeare’s work and the complexities of iambic pentameter. It was truly refreshing to witness sign language being used naturally in a play, particularly when the jig was performed using BSL too. This was a complete highlight of the production for me. I hope this opens the door and encourages more diversity, with disabilities becoming better represented in the arts.

Overall, this was a very enjoyable production of Hamlet, but it fell a little flat for me. It didn’t stir me the way this play usually does. It felt rushed and skipped through the poignant parts of the play too quickly, resulting in me feeling emotionally detached from the protagonist. However, it had the most striking Ophelia I have ever seen, and brilliantly incorporated BSL into the production.

Watching Shakespeare performed at the Globe is always an authentically thrilling experience. I absolutely love this theatre and can’t wait to return in August when I watch As You Like It and Othello.

RATING = ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

 

 
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Posted by on June 25, 2018 in Theatre

 

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Macbeth

Venue = The National Theatre

In 2016, to celebrate Shakespeare’s 400th birthday, the Royal Shakespeare Company staged a compilation of Shakespearean scenes, songs and soliloquies, which was televised. During this celebration, Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff performed a scene from Macbeth. It was tantalising to see such a brilliant pairing onstage. I hoped that one day these two fantastic actors would perform the play in its entirety. When the tickets came on sale for this production at the National Theatre, I was extremely excited to see it. Even as the negative critics’ reviews were published, I vowed that I would make up my own mind regarding the play. I was still hyped by the possibility of seeing Rory Kinnear perform Shakespeare live on stage.

There are few better at performing Shakespeare than Rory Kinnear. The intonations and stresses in his voice follow the rhythmic pattern of iambic pentameter perfectly. There is no doubt that he masters the bard’s poetic language and rhythms. He effortlessly tackles Shakespeare’s soliloquies and truly captivates the audience throughout his plays. His performance in Macbeth was no different. Having seen veteran Kenneth Branagh play the doomed character in Manchester, Kinnear’s performance is equally as strong, adding a unique vulnerability to Macbeth which I have never seen before. Rather than a ruthless killer, Kinnear’s Macbeth is horrified by the grotesque murders he commits. He turns into a nervous wreck, his mannerisms were unsettled and his voice wavered. With a shaking leg and hands, Rory Kinnear’s Macbeth is visibly shocked and full of anguish and remorse. Rather than a power hungry murderer, he presented a man who had gone too far into bloodshed to turn back. It gave Macbeth a humanity which was refreshing to see.

Similarly, Anne-Marie Duff’s Lady Macbeth was equally as disturbed as her husband. The scene where she sleepwalks and washes her hands from murderous blood; ‘out damned spot!’, was naturally believable and shocking. She performs this scene perfectly and really shines during these scenes. The chemistry between the married couple is convincingly authentic. It is clear that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are passionately in love. However, there was nothing in Anne-Marie Duff’s performance that indicated how she convinced her husband to become a murderous villain. Personally, I believe that she wasn’t manipulative enough as a character. Despite this, there is no denying that her Lady Macbeth perfectly expressed the physical mortification of her crimes.

Unfortunately, the fine acting from Kinnear and Duff was spoiled by an obstructive, distracting setting and stage design. This production is set in a post-apocalyptic world, where the characters live in a desolate wasteland, eating from mess tins and curiously improvisational clothing. While this looks visually striking, it considerably causes the play to become confusing. Macbeth strives to be Thane and King, becoming a vicious murderer in his quest to become King. This production questions just what Macbeth will be king of… A desolate wasteland? There isn’t even a crown to be desired. Literally the only prominence of King Duncan is that he wears a red suit. There is no other motivation evident in this production for Macbeth to want to usurp the king.

Other than the superb lighting, the rest of the stage design for this production was disastrous. The set was distracting and obstructive. A vast ramp dominates the stage, yet is rarely used. It is only used as an entrance/exit and doesn’t add anything integral to the play. Large poles spring up from the stage with plastic bin liners on the top to represent trees. Actors frequently climb the ‘trees’ which is effective in certain scenes, such as the witches, but entirely distracting in others. Whenever an actor climbs a ‘tree’, there is an irritating rustling noise. This was most evident when Macbeth finds his wife’s dead body. What would be a touching, emotional scene was spoiled by someone climbing the ‘tree’ closest to where I was sat, creating a distracting rustling noise that diverted my attention and ruined the poignancy of the scene. Equally, huge drapes of plastic bin liners were used at the back of the stage to create a post-apocalyptic stage curtain. Whenever a scene change was taking place backstage, there was an annoying rustling noise protruding from backstage that was vexing to me.

In addition to this, clunky buildings adorned the set, but obstructed the audience’s view. My seat was stage-left and I struggled to see the action through the concrete walls of the buildings. Unless you were sat centre-stage, the concrete buildings blocked your view. I couldn’t see Banquo’s ghost at all as the side wall of the house hindered my view. A revolving floor was used to mitigate this problem, however, it revolved at the worst moments possible. The stage revolved during Macbeth’s soliloquies, which served as a distraction. Shakespeare’s soliloquies are designed for the audience’s attention to be solely on the character revealing their inner thoughts. However, when that character was stood on a revolving stage, that attention is broken, and the intimacy between the character and the audience during these speeches was destroyed. It was a real shame as Rory Kinnear is an accomplished Shakespearean actor who really excels in these soliloquies.

Sadly, that is not where the problems in this production end. Shakespeare’s play itself is butchered, making this Macbeth seem more like an abridged version. Entire characters such as Donalbain were brutally removed. Many of the famous lines have been savagely cut from this production, such as ‘by the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes’. When you stage a Shakespeare play, there are certain lines that the audience expect to hear and anticipate. This is one of them. It is like when Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet experimented with the placement of the ‘To be or not to be’ soliloquy. I don’t mind productions being experimental, however, here it just side-lined the witches, meaning that their prophecies didn’t hold as much gravitas as they should. This further blurred the audience’s understanding of Macbeth’s motivation for killing King Duncan.

The two assassins in Macbeth were woeful. The decision to use the Geordie clown character as one of the assassins was a terrible decision as Trevor Fox remained the same character throughout. This actor warned Macduff’s wife that assassins were coming to kill her and her children; having killed Banquo in an earlier scene. It caused endless confusion. If they used the same actor for both of these roles, there needs to be a distinction that separates the different parts, rather than remaining exactly the same for both. The other assassin was a squeaky voiced actress, sporting a Joker denim jacket and was a strange blend between Harley Quinn and Bellatrix Lestrange. She wasn’t intimidating enough to play this role. The method of payment for these assassins also raised questions. It appears that they basically kill people for a can of San Pellegrino.

It is such a shame that Macbeth has so much potential due to its superb lead actors, yet is let down by poor stage design and production. I felt the same after watching Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet. They both felt like they were trying too hard on being different, without focusing on what people love so much about Shakespeare, the plays themselves! The magic of Shakespeare lies in his poetic verse, his fascinating characters and the way they represent values that are inherent in all humankind. Whether that is love, death, greed, jealousy, ambition, desire or grief, there is always a quality in Shakespeare that reflects what it is to be human. His plays have endured for over 400 years without the need for extravagant stage design.

RATING = ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

 
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Posted by on June 20, 2018 in Theatre

 

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