Macbeth. Trafalgar Studios, 28th Feb 2013

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This Macbeth was set in a dystopian future, and it was a violent and fast-moving production. I had a stage seat, and  I was in the middle of the second row on an aisle.  This meant that I had a very good view of both the actors and the audience. The reviews have picked up that this was a very bloody production and there was lots of stage blood.  Other bloggers teased me with the prospect of being covered in blood.  However, I ended up with a little speck on my hand, and the ushers kindly assured us that if we got any blood on us it would wash out.

I felt that the production was unnerving and shocking, and even the crashing opening jerked me.  As I was sat in the middle of the stage and being so close to the actors, there was a real sense of this being a performance and that I was constantly being reminded that I was in a theatre and seeing an illusion.  I loved the rawness of the theatre space around me and being so aware building itself with its black painted walls and the props placed around  the entrance to the stage.  At one point the back of the stage opened and revealed the street outside.  The masks worn at points in the production were also a reminder that this was theatre and a show, and added to the overall unnerving grotesque aesthetic of the production.

As the production clearly referenced metatheatre, I had hoped that the production might have involved the audience more than it did, and I think the actors tended to act as if there wasn’t an audience.

There were some interesting doubling.  For example,  the actors who played the witches, also played Banquo’s murderers.  This made sense, but I wasn’t clear whether all the doubling choices had some meaning or they were just pragmatic doubling because of the size of the cast.  The same women who had played the witches and the murderers also played Macbeth’s attendants, and  one of the reasons that I would question that we were meant to think they were the witches was the look of despair on the women’s faces in the final scenes when it was clear that Macbeth would be defeated.  If they were shape-shifting witches masquerading as attendants maybe they would have looked delighted that their plan had worked.  The other problem with the doubling was I had been trying to believe that Lady Macduff was also a witch, and this didn’t work for me so probably not the case, but  I could believe that she was a warrior as she sat beside her husband in Macbeth’s castle.

In this production, the supernatural was played down.  For example, there wasn’t an air drawn dagger. In the scene where Macbeth returns to the witches we don’t see the visions.  The scene becomes Macbeth drinking the witches’ potion and becoming physically ill as well as  hallucinating.  Without the supernatural being emphasised, it felt  as if the characters had more control over their futures and there were clear choices to be made.  The horror around them was of their own making.

In the English scenes, the lights went up and the house was illuminated, but this wasn’t a promised end.  England felt just as bleak in a futuristic England as it did in Scotland.  At the end of the play we were left  feeling there would be little change.  The violence that had defeated Macbeth would continue to contribute to this horrific vision of a future Scotland.  It felt the ending reflected the start of the play where Macbeth had defeated Cawdor and we had seen the bloody soldier. Macduff (Jamie Ballard) felt so hurt and angry that he was now set on a path of violence and revenge which would continue after Mabeth’s death.

There were some strong performances. Forbes Masson was an older Banquo. As a ghost he chides Macbeth, and his ghostly presence is as violent as his earthly and he thirst for combat and revenge is still there.  Jamie Ballard played an extremely emotional Macduff and Claire Foy was a Lady Macbeth that was at her best in the scenes when Macbeth becomes increasingly isolated.

I felt that James McAvoy dominated this production. With his ginger beard, he was a constant presence and extremely active. There was a moment where he hesitated when he heard Macduff’s son speak from his hiding place cupboard.  For a moment, I thought that Macbeth would leave the boy, but after a pause, he turned back and savagely killed the boy.  McAvoy hesitation on ‘tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow’, felt strange, but at the same time kept the focus on McAvoy and his internal turmoil. It was so different from Jonathan Slinger in Michael Boyd’s 2011 production who was almost drunk on the violence said the lines boldly from a swing. McAvoy played Macbeth as if he might change his mind and renounce the violence at anytime, but had been pushed to behave in this way because it was expected by the society he was part of.  It felt that the only way this Macbeth could have survived was to have had some power and control.

Unfortunately, I won’t get chance to see this again, but when I did see it, I enjoyed the experience and relished the chance to sit on stage and be in the middle of the action.

Further Information, Previews and Reviews–Making-bloody-mess-Shakespeares-Macbeth.html?ito=feeds-newsxml

Review: Macbeth starring James McAvoy, Trafalgar Studio 1, London – Reviews – Theatre & Dance – The Independent

Best of 2011

Here is my best of.. lists. The following post discusses what I thought about the year.

Shakespeare in the Theatre

1. Romeo and Juliet (RSC at the RST)

2. Much Ado About Nothing (Globe)

3. Hamlet (The National Theatre)

4. Much Ado About Nothing (Wyndham’s)

5.The Comedy of Errors (Propeller at Sheffield)

6. Antony and Cleopatra with Katy Stephens and Darrell D’Silva (RSC at the RST)

7. Macbeth (RSC)

8. The Merchant of Venice (RSC)

9. King Lear (RSC at the RST and Roundhouse)

10. Hamlet (Young Vic)

11. Othello (The Crucible, Sheffield)

12. As You Like It (RSC at Roundhouse)

13. Macbeth (Liverpool Everyman)

14. All Well That End’s Well (The Globe)

15. The Comedy of Errors (Young Person’s at RSC)

16. Hamlet (Northern Broadsides at West Yorkshire Playhouse)

17. Hamlet (Globe touring)

18. The Comedy of Errors (National Theatre)

19. Richard III (Old Vic)

20. Richard II (Donmar)

21. Hamlet (Young Person’s at RSC)

22.  King Lear (West Yorkshire Playhouse)

23.  The Tempest (Theatre Royal, Haymarket)

24.  A Midsummer Night’s Dream (RSC, RST)

25. Twelfth Night (National Theatre)

Other Theatre

1. Jerusalem (Apollo)

2. The Homecoming (RSC at the Swan)

3. Frankenstein (The National)

4. One Man, Two Guvnors (The Lowry)

5. Anna Christie (Donmar)

6. The City Madam (RSC, The Swan)

7. Dr Faustus (The Globe)

8. Betrayal (Harold Pinter/Comedy)

9. Inadmissible Evidence (Donmar)

10. Cardenio (RSC, The Swan)

11. Rosencrantz and Guldenstern are Dead (Haymarket)

12. Grief (The National)

13. 13 (The National)

14. Silence (RSC at Hampstead)

15. Little Eagles (RSC at Hampstead)

16. Season’s Greetings (National Theatre)

17. Juno and the Paycock (National)

18. Cause Célèbre (Old Vic)

19. Deep Blue Sea (West Yorkshire Playhouse)

20. Moonlight (Donmar)

21. The Crucible (York Theatre Royal)

22. The Heretic (Royal Court)

23. Forty Years On (York Theatre Royal)

24. American Trade (RSC at Hampstead)

25. Beggar’s Opera (Belt Up at York Theatre Royal)

Note: Forty Years On is here for proud Mum reasons.


1. John Martin (Tate Britain)

2. Ford Maddox Brown (Manchester City Art Gallery)

3. Degas (Royal Academy)

4. Leonardo da Vinci (National Gallery)

5. Juma Plensa (Yorkshire Sculpture Park)

6. Glamour of the Gods (National Portrait Gallery)

7. Gerhard Ritcher (Tate Modern)

8. First Actresses (National Portrait Gallery)

9. Miro (Tate Modern)

10. Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World (British Museum)

11. Gabriel Orozco (Tate Modern)

12. Watteau (Royal Academy)

13. Hokusai’s Great wave (British Museum)

14. Treasures of Heaven (British Museum)

15. Devotion by Design (National Gallery)

16. Royal Academy Summer Show 2012

17. Building the Revolution (Royal Academy )

18. Barry Flanagan (Tate Britain)

19. Grayson Perry (British Museum)

20. Tacita Dean (Tate Modern)

My great cultural moments of 2011

Meeting Sir Alan and Lady Ayckbourn

First night of Wyndham’s Much Ado About Nothing

Last night of Long Ensemble (2009-11) at Royal Shakespeare Theatre – Romeo and Juliet

First night of Long Ensemble (2009-11) at the opening of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre – King Lear

The performance of the year – Adam James as Don Pedro in Wyndham’s Much Ado About Nothing – just wonderful.

Edinburgh Festival

The RSC Ensemble Revealed at the Swan Theatre.

Best actor and actress

Best Actor – Adam James in Much Ado About Nothing (Wyndham’s)

Best Actress – Eve Best in Much Ado About Nothing (The Globe)

Macbeth (RST, May/June/August 2011)

Looking back on the 2011 RSC Macbeth..

Susannah Clapp writing in The Observer noted that there was a little bit of the Turn of the Screw about the RSC production of Macbeth and this was one of my thoughts when I first saw it for the first time back in May.  Indeed, when I first saw it, I  left thinking about the film The Others as well.  As characters die on stage, Seyton/Porter (Jamie Beamish) opens the door to the back of the stage for the ghosts to exit, but it is as if they are compelled to return back to the action.  It felt as if the dead did not know that they were dead and continued to inhabit the play world after their parts had ended.

The action seemed to be manipulated by Ross (Scott Handy), and in this production he was such an enigma.  It was as if he wasn’t in this world of the action and was in it at the same time.  At the opening, he stood at the front of the Circle and looked down at the characters on the thrust stage.  He was like a narrator starting the play off as he prompted Malcolm (Howard Charles) to start speaking “As two spent swimmers’.  In usurping the witches’ opening scene, Ross also became a witness to the gruesome horror, the all-knowing spectator.  He was sick when he saw the murdered body of Duncan, but as the play progressed, it felt that he became more complicit in the action. At one  point he used alcohol as a crutch to cope with what he’d seen, but at another he stood by and watched as the Macduff children are murdered.  At first, Ross seemed to be a balance to Seyton (or Satan as I felt he was in this production), but as the play moved towards its conclusion Ross seemed to become more like him and in the end it felt that he was on the same side as Satan, and acting as agent for the supernatural.  At the end and the start of the play Ross is like an audience who know the play and can chant the words along with the actors, but sit  there as observers because they have no agency to interfere in the play world?

The production  replaced the witches with children whose first appearance was to descend from the flies  dangling from meat hooks as if they were no more than macabre puppets, but then they suddenly shuddered and came alive.  Their song was chilling and haunting.  If they are Lady Macduff’s children, time becomes disjointed, adding another lair of intrigue in this production. As an audience we are never sure.

I thought that Jonathan Slinger’s Macbeth became more frantic as the play moves forward.  He wrapped himself in his robes to hide himself, as if he made real the drunk hope that he had dressed himself.  The banquet scene, which straggles the interval, was played twice – first the scene from Macbeth’s point of view and then again from the guests’ point of view.  What we had seen was an insight into Macbeth’s head. He is a man who starts off as one of the lads and becomes alone and isolated as he becomes more sure of himself.  The irony is that he was also doubtful and insecure.

The murder of Lady MacDuff’s children was chilling, especially as the little girl was taken away by one of the murderers but still killed.  She ran to exit through Seyton’s door before he closed it and Macduff  (Aidan Kelly) ran after to have the door slammed in his face.  I really liked the way that the ghosts of Lady Macduff and her children followed Macduff around. The last scene was carefully choreographed so that Macbeth’s death is caused by those he murders.

Jamie Beamish’s performance as  Seyton/Porter was a joy.  He could be sinister and humorous at the same time. The business with fireworks was really funny, but fitted so well into the overall aesthetic of the production.

I saw this five times across the run, and during that time I also observed Jonathan Slinger’s hair change colour from blond back to its natural colour (for his portrayal of Lenny in The Homecoming).  The new theatre space is certainly intimate.  At times I was so close to the action that I could almost touch the actors.  I could smell the sweat, and the leather of Banquo’s coat and the dying moments of the Porter’s fireworks. There were times Macbeth was inches away from me, and I could feel his tension. I think this adds to the experience of watching.

I know that the production had mixed reviews, and there were some silly bits like all the Banquo dolls appearing out of the flies and Macbeth descending on a throne – because you can in the new theatre – but I really liked the way the production unnerved me and didn’t present me with answers.

Reviews and Previews

Macbeth (Belt Up, York Theatre Royal, 8th October 2010)

I must admit that this production of Macbeth was very much in the Belt Up aesthetic and contributes to an oeuvre which experiments with using space in inventive ways.  In a proscenium arch theatre this involves the breaking down the fourth wall and any divide between auditorium and stage in using the space in the performance.  Belt Up take some of their ideas from the theatre of the absurd and surrealism.  Now when I go and see Belt Up, I know more or less what I’m going to experience.  On this occasion their approach was to transform Macbeth into a grotesque comedy, but unfortunately this production seemed to over play the joke and the clowning,  and ignored some of the interpretations of the text that could have been highlighted with a more subtle approach.   

The production worked when it was building on the grotesque rather than being  funny ha ha.  There were some clever comic moments for example when we are supposed to feel horror watching Duncan dying on stage (normally he dies off stage),  the joke being he doesn’t die easily even though he is a frail man.  It felt that Belt Up were working hard to blur the lines between comedy and tragedy so in a moment they became the same thing and this worked well here.   There were some other interesting ideas in this production such as a pregnant Lady Macbeth and  the birth in the second  visit to the witches scene was a thoughtful way of taking the pregnancy idea through the play to a conclusion.  Women with beards can be funny  and a Lady Macbeth that changes gender from man to women through a striptease on stage was very entertaining.  This is a reminder that Lady Macbeth was played by a man originally, but probably not a man with a beard.  Indeed, at times, I felt that I was watching a Monty Python approach to Macbeth, but for  nearly two hours it was just a little long, especially as the  joke was evident from the start and was continually repeated in similar ways. 

There were bits of this production which I didn’t think were successful. I didn’t get the clowning at the start of the play, which felt under rehearsed and indulgent and some of the playing against the verse rhythms for effect was irritating.  For example, in attempting to make some of the verse sound like it was being delivered by a WWI general through a loud hailer felt really contrived.   Belt Up have already used the device of a character dying on stage and the actor continuing to lay motionless on the stage for the curtain call in The Trail.  This worked much better in the space used for that production than on a proscenium arch stage where an audience expects a curtain call and playing against this, rather than being innovative, feels just chaotic and confusing.  I found the use of the  Theatre Royal stage which exposed the back wall and the ruins of the roman hospital, with the clutter on stage,  just a little frustrating, because all this suggested the backstage area of the theatre and  made me want to see a ‘backstage’ version of the play.  In setting up this expectation with the set it becomes slightly disappointing when this only happens in part. 

I am pleased that the Theatre Royal is taking chances with the productions it puts on and giving young companies like Belt Up the support it needs to establish itself.  Though some of this production worked for me, and other bits didn’t, it was much better seeing this than another dry ‘traditional’ approach to the play.

Saffron on Macbeth at York Theatre Royal

Reviews and Previews

Review: Macbeth, Belt Up Theatre, York Theatre …

Macbeth (Shakespeare's Globe, 8th May 2010)


On entering the Globe auditorium there are notices which state: 

‘Please note that this is a gruesome production of a brutal play.’   

The notices set the tone for the production, which is comic and gruesome at the same time.  Hovering above the stage is a metal circle.  Could this symbolise the crown (the golden round) that Macbeth coverts and is to be at the heart of his downfall?

Lucy Bailey has the ability to surprise in her approach to using the Globe space.  I really liked the way the ravens descended from the netting in her production of Timon of Athens a couple of years ago.  In that production the focus was on greed.  For her production of Macbeth,  Bailey has created a kind of hell, and the emphasis  is on the ground and the under stage areas.  The groundlings are covered with a black sheet with slits for their heads to poke through.  The effect is of decapitated heads floating above the sheet.  Those under the sheet squeal and howl as the actors move through them.  This business can be alluring, as well as distracting, as the audience  find themselves watching groundlings rather than the performance.

Smoke appears and pipes playing signal the start of the production.  The witches taunt the audience, and  bloodied heads appear and one of these is revealed to be  the captain. 

Like Lucy Bailey’s RSC Julius Caesar   this production attempts to show death in its most brutal form such as the crack we hear when Cawdor is put to death and his neck broken.  Dead bodies are swallowed by the earth as they are dumped down traps.  There’s lots of blood, as we would expect from Lucy Bailey who makes us focus on the visceral, as well as the intellectual ideas.  For example, Macbeth’s hands are covered in blood after the murder of Duncan and this is echoed in the black sheets which are shrouding the Globe pillars  are tinged in red as if stained with the blood of the king.  The corpse of Duncan is brought on stage like a child, but it is also like a piece of meat.  The theme of the body as meat continues throughout the play as Banquo’s ghost appears out of the raw meat banquet in the banquet scene.  Macbeth has blood on his hands from handling the bloodied meat, but we also see this as Banquo’s blood.  It feels like the physical images are reflective of Macbeth’s psychological trauma.

This production oscillates between comedy and the macabre.  This is partly achieved through the witches being on stage for most of the play, and their costumes echo that of the Globe ushers, as if they are directing the players through the play.  The witches are  on stage during Lady Macbeth’s soliloquy, and  hand the dagger to Macbeth during his ‘Is this a dagger’ soliloquy.  The grotesque porter haunts the production and, like the witches, is ever-present.  In the closing scenes, Macbeth is alone with this man, and at the end of the play the porter is pushed to the floor which seemed to signal the end of Macbeth’s power.  The witches grasp Macbeth and he is finally theirs.

Reviews and Previews

Macbeth at the Globe in The Guardian
Macbeth in The Independent
The Globe’s Macbeth in The Evening Standard
WOS Globe Macbeth
Macbeth in Official London Theatre Guide
WOS Macbeth at the Globe
Globe’s Macbeth in The Telegraph