The Scottish play

Sue and I went to our first Stratford production this year: known as The Scottish play.

We picked this one partly because of Colm, since as we all know, all things Colm are good. (And IMDB says that his first name is pronounced “Column”, but that just sounds wrong, so I will continue to pronounce it “Comb” or “Sexy Comb”, as is customary).

This production was directed by Des McAnuff, who is known for a bit of the (melo)drama, and that came through in the delivery, and more particularly the blocking and big booms and flashy stuff, but more on that later.

The cast is pretty solid – not a one that registered on the spit-meter or went over to melodrama. In most cases, I have at least one or two lead/secondary actors that annoy me, as in here and here.  EXCEPT, except, … I found Colm’s delivery to be, at times, awkward at best and stilted at worst. Knowing him and what he’s capable of, I would like to blame it on the stage direction, but I was left underwhelmed by the performance. In one scene, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are conversing and he has his arms wrapped around her from behind–he was swinging her back and forth from stage left to stage right in a way that lifted us right out of the play and focused us on the artifice of speaking to the audience. It was disjarring and definitely not natural. There was a little too much of strut-strut-strut SPEAK, strut-strut-strut. (And having said that, there is an angry mob of Feorians gathering outside my house with pitchforks and torches, and I’m pretty sure I see my closest friends at the rearguard).

To the highlights:

  • Yanna McIntosh as Lady Macbeth. My thoughts on this play are that if Lady Mac sucks, then the play will suck. I loved that she was not hideously ambitious, nor cartoonishly evil nor melodramatic. McIntosh gave her a regal feel, and a pragmatic air. The very kind of “political wife” that contemporary audiences will be aware of. Her stage voice is great – carries well, with no shrillness – and this gives her the luxury of paying more attention to subtlety and natural movement. There were several lines that she delivered facing backstage and there was no drop in our attention on her. I was also very impressed with her “out, damn’d spot” speech as well – I was worried ahead of time that it would be the usual over-the-top, but instead we see a polished (if suddenly grey-haired woman), whose outer veneer of control is betrayed by a tic of the hand and anguished speech in her sleep.
  • Timothy D Stickney as Banquo. Again, great stage voice and presence. He conveys the valour of Banquo and his hesitancy at staying loyal to Macbeth when he takes the kingship. I was thinking he looked rather familiar and didn’t figure it out until I looked at the programme later that it’s because he was “RJ” on OLTL for a long time, though on the soap he always looked more angular and kind of like a dread model. In any case, he was very good last night.
  • Dion Johnstone as Macduff. Macduff is also an honourable thane, and the ultimate vanquisher of Macbeth (Macduff is he who is not “of woman born”). Johnstone’s strongest scene was when he finds out that his entire family, and all of his servants, have been slaughtered at Macbeth’s order. Again, part direction and part acting, but he manages to convey incredulity without the hysteronics that many actors would fall to.
  • Geraint Wyn Davies as Duncan. So good to see him back! And he’s very trim these days (considering last time I saw him on television his face was looking a bit like a puffer fish). Davies is warm and majesterial onstage and is a match for Feore on charm, so it was good casting. He will, however, always be my Forever Knight
  • Tom Rooney as the Porter. Shakespeare is a master of the comic scene, and Rooney delivers as the Porter some excellent relief from the drama as he goes to answer the door. It involves a table, a spotlight and the audience, but I won’t say more than that. Really fun.

Other notes on FX, fighting and contemporary stuff…

McAnuff like the pyrotechnics a bit too much. There were lots of big booms and smoke and gunfire, but not all to good effect, in my opinion. Maybe it’s just me, but I think a quieter approach in the environment and the sound would be a better complement to the blood and dramatic soliloquies of the play. In fact, it all seemed like pandering to the tv generation in the end. (And judging by the fidgets from the frat boy sitting next to me, it didn’t work so well).

However, there were some interesting things done with lighting and technology in this production. Spotlights were used to good effect and the setting and tone of specific scenes were reinforced via video images on 4 big screens that were suspended from watchtowers on the stage. The cool grey & white of the digital images gave a certain bleakness and otherworldly feeling. More akin to the “quietness” that I would have if it were mine to direct. There was one scene that came in from a black set with the flash of photographers taking a picture of the new king – very effective.

There were also what seemed to be nods at contemporary events – the costuming and hair for McIntosh was very “Michelle Obama” (Melle noted that too), and if you look at McIntosh’s “real world” self, the resemblance isn’t really there, so that makes me think it was intended. What that says about the pres, I have no idea, since as far as I know he’s not a bloody hero who’s willing to kill his king to take over.

Also, in what seemed like a throwaway, the photographers are referred to like they are embedded journalists who are taking the pictures they are allowed to take. It was an interesting nod to our own contemporary politics.

Hmmm. Looks like Richard Ousounian saw the same play I did.

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