Review of Macbeth
Birmingham is privileged to have a number of excellent theatres and to be within reach of outstanding ones such as The National Theatre, The Donmar Warehouse and The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, giving English Literature students (and any others who are interested) the opportunity to see drama performed at the highest level. The Crucible theatre in Sheffield is similarly renowned, and also gives audiences the opportunity to experience theatre in the round. Macbeth had been chosen as the final production of The Crucible’s fortieth anniversary year.
A group of MPW students, principally those studying Macbeth for their A2 English Literature examination in the summer, saw Macbeth at a matinee performance early this term. The play was being studied as part of the Gothic genre, and the reviews promised just such an interpretation.
Sam Marlowe’s review in The Times opened with: “A stone circle: shades of moss-green, earth and black, splashes with livid red; the screech of night-flying creatures, the ominous rumble of thunder. Daniel Evans’ production of the gore-drenched Scottish play is a murky, medieval vision of pagan superstition and power-hungry appetite. Performed in the round and designed by Richard Kent, it conjures a ring of hell.”
On the one hand the performance was the anticipated story of bloody machination, with a strong Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, the latter admirable in her early manipulative scenes and totally convincing in her mental and spiritual deterioration. Apparitions, prophecies, murders and ghosts were dramatically convincing. Yet there was innovation too, bringing a sharp intake of breath from the audience as they saw Macbeth not only present at the massacre at Macduff’s castle (which cannot really be justified by the text) but shockingly accepting Lady Macduff’s baby from the hands of a soldier. The audience expected, perhaps, that the poor infant would hardly last a second in the hands of this monster.
They were even more shocked when Macbeth behaved lovingly towards it and then allowed it to be taken (we hope) safely away. This unexpected interpretation underlined Lady Macbeth’s speech earlier on relating to a lost child and added psychological mystery to Macbeth himself.
And the coconut? After the completely successful evocation of atmosphere, setting of time and place, perhaps we fell victim to theatre in the round. Macbeth’s head, removed and on a stake, faced away from us. Perhaps it was a really successful prop seen from the front, by the audience on the other side of the circle, but from our position, somehow the thin stake, the gingery dry surface of the skull, so familiar in shape...