Review: The Tragedy of Macbeth, Almeida Theatre

At more than three hours, The Tragedy of Macbeth stretches the patience at the Almeida Theatre, despite strong work from Saoirse Ronan and James McArdle

Let not light see my black and deep desires”

The tragedy of Macbeth is that it is a notoriously difficult play to stage well and given its ubiquity on school curricula, it is staged hella often. At least it is one of Shakespeare’s shortest plays but the further tragedy of this Macbeth is that it breaks the three hour mark with its running time. And as I left Yaël Farber’s production at the Almeida Theatre, I can’t say I felt it had made the case for such indulgence.

The Tragedy of Macbeth initially grabbed headlines for marking the UK stage debut of Saoirse Ronan (she has previously been on Broadway in The Crucible) and so to get your hands on a ticket in this intimate theatre is a job in itself (streaming could be your friend, details below). And much of Farber’s innovation in recalibrating this show has been to seriously beef up Lady Macbeth’s presence in the play, physically as well as verbally, something which is intermittently very effective. Continue reading “Review: The Tragedy of Macbeth, Almeida Theatre”

DVD Review: Macbeth (2015)

“I feel now the future in the instant”

For one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, Macbeth is not one that often appears on film screens but Justin Kurzel’s adaptation set that right in 2015 in blistering style. An utterly cinematic version that on paper should raise many a theatre fan’s hackles, its brooding sense of epic danger releases the film into a new dimension, one which may well irk a purist or three but on its own merits, is most darkly compelling.

Kurzel opts for a medieval Scottish setting, a land somewhere between the mythical and the mundane, using some striking Caledonian vistas for location work. The reality of life is shown by the Macbeths’ castle being little more than a collection of mud huts but sweeping shots of mountains and moorsides from cinematographer Adam Arkapaw pull us away into the ether and the red tinges of crimson flame and scarlet blood paint almost expressionistic frames that are just beautiful to behold. Continue reading “DVD Review: Macbeth (2015)”

Review: Macbeth, Crucible

“I go, and it is done”

They appear to be creatures of habit up in Sheffield. Just as big musicals pop up at Christmas, a high profile Shakespeare forms the centrepiece of their autumn schedules and powerless to resist once again, I made my way to the Crucible, this time for Macbeth. Last year’s Othello was an extraordinary success – John Simm’s Hamlet the year before somewhat less to my tastes – and the casting news of Geoffrey Streatfeild and Claudie Blakley whetted my appetite for what lay ahead in Daniel Evans’ production.

But part of the problem in investing too much expectation in anticipated performances means that one can end up blinded to the more general merits of a production through the haze of disappointment. And so it was here as the central casting just doesn’t seem to work. I have no problem at all with atypical interpretations of characters, such subversions often lead the way to sensational new insight, but I simply couldn’t get a handle on what was trying to be done here. Continue reading “Review: Macbeth, Crucible”

Review: Yerma, Gate Theatre

“Does his breath make you want to feel his tongue in your mouth”

Outgoing Artistic Directors Natalie Abrahami and Carrie Cracknell have made the Gate Theatre into quite the powerhouse of small-scale international drama and Abrahami has turned her hand one last time with this production of Federico García Lorca’s Yerma, a co-production with Hull Truck, in a new version by Anthony Weigh. Having never seen it before, I couldn’t tell you anything about how it compares to the original (indeed I often wonder how many reviewers have real experience that they refer to rather than meticulous research) so I’m not even going to try.

The play centres on Yerma, a young peasant wife who is increasingly distraught at her childlessness in a community where fecundity is everything. Her sheep farmer husband Juan is more interested in tending his flock than tending to her needs and as she resorts to increasingly desperate measures to get a baby, she edges closer to the dark secret that haunts her marriage. In the ochre-heavy set of harsh sand and rusted corrugated iron – beautifully realised by Ruth Sutcliffe – the intensity is wound further and further until the spring breaks. Continue reading “Review: Yerma, Gate Theatre”

Review: Black Watch, Barbican

“You’ve got to know what we’re fighting for, otherwise there’s no point…”

Returning to the Barbican after a highly acclaimed run in 2008, the National Theatre of Scotland’s Black Watch is in the midst of an international tour of UK and US cities with a brand new cast. Based on interviews conducted by playwright Gregory Burke with former soldiers who served in the recent conflict in Iraq, the show examines what it is to be a soldier in the modern age and what comes after. As we shift between the pool room back in Fife where they’re being interviewed by a journalist and the war zone with its armoured vehicles, makeshift shacks and lookout points, the complex truth of delivering modern warfare is exposed. And though it is set right in the middle of the war on terror, it studiously avoids moralising or coming down on one side or the other, allowing reasoned arguments on both sides.

Creatively, it combines several elements to create a piece of visceral physical theatre that lingers in the memory and is clearly one of the main reasons for its continuing success: Gareth Fry’s ear-splitting sounds never let us forget the constant presence of danger in the field; Davey Anderson’s use of music allows for a reflective melancholy to be interspersed amongst scenes and Steven Hoggett’s stylised movement provides a striking beauty whether to rituals, battles, even the changing of seats in a pub, using the reconfigured space of the Barbican’s main theatre most effectively. Continue reading “Review: Black Watch, Barbican”