Theatre Review: Macbeth, 13 September, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

14 Sep

Whle I like to think that I’m widely read (that includes real books and not just my Facebook News Feed), listen to the finest music (give me some John Barry Bond tunes on the ipod and I’m content) and know my films as well as the next person (assuming he or she watches too many of them and has a fondness for The Third Man or anything with James Garner), there is one area of the arts that I’m severely lacking in knowledge: the works of Shakespeare.

While it’s a bit of a cultural faux pas to admit such a thing on a blog devoted in part to theatre and you’d be well within your rights to abandon this blog now without reading another word, I do lay some of the blame at the feet of my old English teachers in school. While we did read Sunset Song and Death of a Salesmen, we never read the works of the Bard…surely a sign of something rotten in our State schools…

Anyway, this is all a long-winded way of saying that going to see the Royal Lyceum Theatre’s new production of Macbeth last night was something I was looking forward to with a few reservations. Would I understand the dialogue? Should I be reading the Wikipedia entry first and get the basics? Or would the information I’ve soaked up over the years from glimpses of TV versions, quotes in the books and magazines and the like set me in good stead?

As I waited for the performance to begin it was hard not to be impressed by the stage design. A large staircase, jutting off into darkened alcoves, led up to the main platform where the King’s throne sat while underneath more recesses, shrouded in drapes, led to a large central section surrounded by autumn leaves. A bit of billowing smoke helped complete the scene and it wasn’t long before thunder and lightning introduced the three witches, rags hanging off them as they made their way around their blasted heath.

One of the big surprises here was the pace of the play. Within no time Macbeth has made his entrance, learnt of his supposed future, returned to tell all to his wife and carried out the deed: it’s fast and barely pauses for breath, the equivalent of a modern day blockbuster in its pacing and excising of extraneous material. I’m led to believe that the script has been cut back slightly for this version and perhaps some of the more explanatory information is now missing – a few more might have been useful and not extended the running time too much.

Liam Brennan’s Macbeth clearly dominates proceedings, though while his distress at seeing Banquo’s ghost is well played and his speeches contain enough gravity to focus all eyes on him, his delivery doesn’t seem to alter much as the story progresses. This has the effect of leaving the audience slightly detached from proceedings: if the man at the centre of the story is taking things in his stride for so much of the proceedings then what is really at stake for the characters?

Allison McKenzie as Lady Macbeth is good support for Brennan, the passion their character’s have for each other played well. Her character’s descent is clearer than her husband’s, but this is certainly not subtle.

Of the rest of the cast Jimmy Chisolm stands out, his turn as the Porter high comedy at its best, far removed from the tone of the rest of the play but welcome nonetheless.

As for my reservations, the first fifteen minutes or so did make me think I should have visited that Wikipedia page after all, but I was soon being carried along thanks to the sheer pace mentioned above. It’s not the overly complicated story I was expecting and at under two hours it’s certainly not the long haul I was expecting. The use of music to punctuate the drama recalls film or television and doesn’t seem too incongruous here.

This was a welcome introduction to the works of Shakespeare and I’m now keen to see some other versions and what can be done by other production teams.

Review by Jonathan Melville

Visit the Lyceum website for times and booking information.

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