Macbeth, as performed by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, at a wet Hyland’s House 12/7/2012
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Much as with my review of Prometheus a few weeks back, some of you may question why other branches of the arts are beginning to creep into STS. For what its worth, this will remain a rare phenomenon due to a lack of resources, and it will remain strictly film and theatre only. All such possible reviews will only be included based upon whether they meet STS’ inclusion parameter – ‘a love of all that is metal’.
So the question now arises – what makes Macbeth metal? Well, for one, it is a dark, macabre play that probes the deepest, murkiest realms of man’s being and psyche, one that explores politics and the personal in equal measure. It is a disturbing, probing play, and much as with the best metal, it makes you take notice, makes you think. Secondly, it contains some of the finest lines and lyricisms in the history of the English language, and while the only direct metal derivation that comes to mind is Iced Earth’s Something wicked this way comes, I imagine the Peaceville Three and the rest of the darker side of the metal world would be a sorrier place without such inspirations as Macbeth. Without Macbeth, we arguably stand to lose much of the gothic cultural heritage of England - Wuthering Heights, Paradise Lost, Dracula, Lovecraft and so on and so forth.
To conclude this preamble, it goes without saying that without Shakespeare we wouldn’t have the English language and thus culture that we have today. He wrote both for the common man and for the educated alike, and with all true art, he appealed to both in equal measure and still does to this day. Shakespeare remains one of the prize possessions of English cultural history.
As you might already have guessed, the performance was set in the open air, looking down toward Chelmsford with much the same view that the residents of Hylands House had while it was occupied. The Lord Chamberlain’s Men are a modern ‘reformation’ of Shakespeare’s old company from the Elizabeth era, whose main trade is a long series of open air summer productions at country houses, castles and other notable locations the length of the country. I first saw the company when they performed The Tempest a couple of summer’s ago (I believe) at Hylands House. Magical does not come close. I think I may also have seen them put on another play, but my memory fails me.
They are all professional actors and have strong resumes, which you can read about here. I learnt about them via the very reasonably priced programme that the actors were selling before the play. The introductions to Macbeth and the actors were interesting, but the director’s note was something else. Andrew Normington drew a direct link between Macbeth and the tragedies of our era – those of continued tyranny, the Syrian crisis, Libya, Egypt, etc. He also offered forth a very interesting analysis of the psychological flaws of those tyrants, manifested brilliantly by Shakespeare in the psychoses of Macbeth. To get quite so political could be risky, and at first I thought Mr Normington had overstepped the mark, but after reflection, he was right to have pushed his argument and analysis. He challenges us to see Macbeth not just as a historical artifact, but a mirror to our own times, our own politicians, our own very selves.
Macbeth has always been a play close to my heart – I have loved the introspection, the dramatic rise and cataclysmic fall of Macbeth, and above all the Medea of Scotland, Lady Macbeth. No doubt having read the play for my GCSEs all those many years ago helped install this great respect. I had seen the play before, back in my GCSE years, but damned if I can remember anything about it, bar my phone going off.
The play was fantastic, it truly was. For a start, the rain added so much – the actor’s lips were wetted, so it appeared that they were spraying spittle in their ravings, whereas it was actually just rainwater. As the evening wore on the persistent rain in a sense drove the play onward – a constant, bone-chilling presence, driving the play to its inevitable conclusion. Finally, the battle betwixt Macduff and Macbeth would not have been the same had they been dry – the wet, haggard appearance of Macduff was absolutely perfect. Here was a man, stripped of all but his sword and his honour, out to slay the one who took all but his own life from him. Having Macbeth stand high on the battlements, bewailing his fate as the ‘wood’ approached, raving into the rain…again, it worked damn well. Apparently a few entrances and exits were altered in order to avoid the wet grass, but such changes had no obvious impact on the play. A few scenes were cut, but again, to no great impact
It was great to see the band stick to Elizabethan form, retaining the musical and dance elements of the play, both at the start and elsewhere. I would love to track down a compendium of those old theatre songs one day, as they invariably pique the interest when you hear them. The costumes were good, but as for the execution of the witches and the ghost of Banquo…minimalist perfection. The Witches were just shapes, dark presences, their lips cunningly shrouded so that their words were even more obscured. The ghost of Banquo was much the same – a silent, brooding, bloodied presence, faceless, nameless like the dead.
The actors all excelled in their roles – as to be expected, this highly professional company delivered a highly professional rendition of a magnificent play. Macbeth and the Lady had true chemistry going on, a near symbiotic stage relationship, with their speeches coming into form far greater than mere words on a page ever could. Macbeth was absolutely superb – regal to the last, ambitious, haunted, haunting – a marvellous rendition of a complex, challenging character. The way his ambition was first charged by and then trumps Lady Macbeth’s own was perfectly delivered, as were his interaction with the ghost and the witches. Lady Macbeth was superb – a callous, calculating spirit, channelling those dark forces she calls upon with aplomb. Banquo had a delectable arrogance about him, a naivety, blinded to his fate by the possibility of greatness for his offspring. Macduff as already mentioned was incendiary – or should that be cold? Yes, cold fits better – his fire is plucked out by the loss of his family, only replaced after the taunts of Malcolm by a heart of ice, of pure hatred, directed at one target and one alone – Macbeth, the author of Macduff’s destruction. Duncan was a typical jolly, ineffectual ruler – fit for the plucking, and Malcolm emerged as a strong, but measured replacement.
I could go on, but really, the only way to truly experience Shakespeare is to see it live, and with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men you have a fantastic opportunity to get some fresh air and refresh your mind as well in the presence of the bard and his Scottish masterpiece. For the rest of The Men’s tour dates, click here. I truly do encourage you to go along.
As a brief postscript, the next day I happened to run into Macduff (or rather, William St Clair) at the Oxfam I volunteer at in town. After plucking up some courage I asked him if he indeed was one of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, and he affirmed that he was. We had a brief chat about the play and how the tour was going. He seemed a very nice guy and it was a pleasure to chat to him about the play.