With two new Tron Ambassadors recruited this September, what better start to their year with us than in at the deep end – with a reviewing workshop from Across the Arts editor and critic Michael Cox, and straight into that evening’s performance of Macbeth to put their newly-learnt reviewing skills into practice.
Emma Quinn talks us through how Rachel O’Riordan’s vision of the Shakespearean tragedy held up against her expectations of the well-loved Scottish Play:
Shakespeare’s Macbeth is the legendary story of a man following the instructions of the supernatural to kill the king and steal the crown of Scotland, and the series of bloody actions that follow.
Macbeth is portrayed by Keith Fleming, an incredible performance, with clear understanding and passion, though not fully provoking the sympathy for Macbeth that the audience should feel. Leila Crerar, the only female in the production, is Lady Macbeth, young, highly sexualised, but nonetheless very powerful. However, I feel her portrayal was a little too innocent for the character, and while Crerar is undoubtedly a brilliant and very talented actress, I think Lady Macbeth isn’t quite the role for her.
Rachel O’Riordan’s concept is very clear: simple and not distracting from the acting. The costumes consist of dark shirts, trousers and boots, with long military jackets for battle – hardly of the era but not desperately modern. Kenny Miller’s set of a grey, medieval castle wall, and the rest, chairs and a table, lying on and around the acting area at all times, is dark, imposing and simply remarkable. This, coupled with the costumes, contrasts with the stark red of the plenteous amount of blood in the production, making it more shocking and harsh. All in all, a great concept that worked extremely well.
The Three Weird Sisters are played by men who also double as Thanes and soldiers, and this aspect I found very interesting as well as impressive, as one minute the trio were upright and proper, the next, hunched over, disjointed beings, “not like th’ inhabitants o‘ th’ earth”. While I’m on the subject, I thought Richard Conlon’s performance in particular, both as a Weird Sister and the Thane of Ross, was impeccable, and, not to spoil anything, but I thought the ending was absolutely perfect.
Over the years there have been too many productions of the Scottish Play to count, but this is certainly not one to be missed.
Rachel Ross casts a critical eye over the production’s highs and lows, ‘battle ground to banquet hall’:
Shakespeare’s classic Macbeth is a story of which most are familiar, but to those who have yet to experience the bloody tale, Rachel O’Riordan’s production is a traditional piece of Scottish theatre.
The tale begins with a very Scottish fight scene – one filled with Glaswegian grunts and “arghs” – in which Macbeth fights loyally for his king and country (unbeknown to him, for the last time). Kenny Miller’s set creates an open, versatile basis for the play ranging from battle ground to banquet hall; a medieval castle wall with huge windows and candle light. Scene to scene transitions flow naturally, thanks to the subtle, atmospheric changes in lighting.
An exciting new element brought to this classic by O’Riordan was the portrayal of the Three Weird Sisters. Unexpectedly, the catalysts to the action are played by men who also fill the roles of Ross, Lennox and Caithness. Shedding their long coats to reveal their strapped up, tortured bodies as each face morphed into a crude, grimaced expression created a thick air of tension. This tension, however, was relieved immediately after the Witches had delivered their prophecies, as the actors skilfully and mysteriously slipped back into their disenchanted characters.
Encouraged by his young, ambitious wife, Keith Fleming fills the role of Macbeth as he is, to quote another famous work of Shakespeare, “hoist by his own petard”. Although fluent in his speech and precise with his movements, Fleming seemed somewhat lacking in emotion. His protrayal of a man plummeting towards death did not seem totally convincing throughout.
Lady Macbeth, played by Leila Crerar, was the only woman in the cast. Lengthy speeches can easily become disengaging, but Crerar’s use of raw tone, weaving delicately between excited, sinister, manipulative and tortured added a whole new level of intensity to the character. During her famous sleepwalking scene, Crerar performed with clarity and conviction, and a single fresnel highlighted her, held by one of the witches who followed her like a vindictive shadow during the explicit, slanderous slumber. This was another creative lighting effect which plunged the audience into her feeling of isolation.
Although lengthy in places, the majority of the play captivated the audience with gripping action and occasional comic relief – such as the drunken porter’s jokes as Macduff knocked at the gate! The production lacked memorable original qualities (other than the explicit characterisation of Lady Macbeth), but shed new light on a classic tragedy, and, overall, provided an entertaining evening.