Stars, hide your fires!
Let not light see my black and deep desires.
I try to watch Shakespeare plays whenever I get the opportunity, which isn’t as often as I’d like. When I saw the ad for this production of The Scottish Play, starring the lovely James McAvoy, I knew I needed to see it. I was gutted to have missed out on Patrick Stewart’s rendition of the same play (though I did manage to see him all bare-chested in The Tempest), so I got really excited about this opportunity to see McAvoy on stage again (saw him in Three Days of Rain a few years ago).
By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes.
That said, I ummed and ahhed about tickets, debating with myself about ticket prices and whether to go without my friend who couldn’t justify the expense. So then it got sold out. Shit. Started looking on gumtree and eBay, but missed out on a gumtree deal when my hotmail account went on strike for a couple days. Then the crazy prices started appearing on eBay, £100+ per ticket. Even I couldn’t really justify that. Kept an eye out still, and was rewarded for my perseverance. I managed to find a couple of 5th row seats for £85 each, snapped them up, then sold one on eBay for £150! Naughty, I know. I sold the spare to a lovely girl from Belgium, she was coming here for the weekend and was hellbent on seeing the play. I met her at the theatre just before to give her her ticket.
It will have blood; they say, blood will have blood.
So anyway, the play itself was marvellous. This production was set in a dystopian future where everything was filthy and discoloured. Blood everywhere. Banquo first appears with blood all over his face, and it was still there later when he greets the king in the castle (me wondering, when will he wash his bloody face). Despite my distaste for bloody faces, it was a good visual foreshadowing of his murder later in the play.
I also found it interesting that the witches pronunciation of ‘fair’ in their chant ‘fair is foul and foul is fair’ made it sound more like ‘fear’, a subtle but powerful change which for me really brought that theme to life in the rest of the play. It was fear that led Macbeth to betray his friend Banquo once he’d murdered the kind king for his crown, and fear that fed his tyranny.
Those he commands move only in command,
Nothing in love.
I studied Macbeth for my GCSE English way back in my youth, and I’d watched the bonkers Polanski movie and another theatre production of the play last year, but I’d never before really appreciated the sense of conflict between the Scottish and the English that runs through the play. Even an amusing gesture, such as a servant spitting as she mentions the English, helps to makes this a prominent theme of The Scottish Play. The future dystopian setting of the play also brought to my mind a consideration of the recent Scottish moves towards independence from the UK, and where this could lead if unchecked. The play also brings to mind all those dictatorships of recent history and the current time.
McAvoy himself was as splendid as ever. At times he portrayed Macbeth as a force of nature, a creature whose physicality had him bounding around the stage from his entrance in which he slid on his knees across the stage floor to halt just before a lucky audience member, to his dramatic downward slide down a high ladder. His character was also very physical with his lessers, slamming servants into walls and using his axe to intimidate others. The only thing that I didn’t really like about his performance was the tremulous vocal tone which he used in his soliloquies. Plus all the unnecessary spitting, but I didn’t mind all the manly chest beating.
Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe topful
Of direst cruelty!
I’ve heard that a lot of critics didn’t like Claire Foy’s version of Lady Macbeth, but I really liked her in that role. There was also a great deal of chemistry between her and McAvoy, and you could really imagine them as a couple in love and in grief. They made much of the hint of their miscarried baby, with Macbeth caressing her stomach at every opportunity, leading you to wonder whether their grief was a key element in their murderous intentions. The horrifying conclusion to this line of thought was the appalling moment when Macbeth finds Macduff’s hidden child and murders him. A woman in the audience hid her face in her hands as Macbeth peers into the the boy’s hiding place before pushing his sword into the child.
Methought I heard a voice cry “Sleep no more!
Macbeth does murder sleep
All in all it was a great play, and I’m so glad that I went to see it. I’m hoping to see Othello starring Adrian Lester at the National Theatre soon.