**** REVIEW: Seve Sutherland finds strangeness aplenty in the RSC’s beguiling production of Macbeth – at the Royal Shakepeare Theatre until 14th October
Seve Sutherland finds strangeness aplenty in the RSC’s beguiling production of Macbeth – on at the Royal Shakepeare Theatre until 14th October
**** four stars
I think I saw a ghost once. Well, twice actually. And not exactly (itals)saw(itals), more experienced. The first was a few years back when, in a rented cottage in Dorset. I was lying in bed in the dark and something walked over me. It felt like a cat. I switched on the bedside lamp but there was nothing there. More recently I was walking the dog up a track at dusk and someone was hiking along about 200 yards ahead of me and then, suddenly, they were no longer there. Other people report encounters with shimmery lights or icy draughts or floating orbs or suchlike. Some say they recognise the ghosts as they resemble their once living entities while others say they’ve been terrified because the spirit appears in some kind of agony, as if they’ve undergone a gruesome demise. Whatever, I’d be truly amazed if the roaming deceased ever actually appeared anything like the vision of Banquo’s ghost we encountered at Maccy-B's feast tonight. Somewhat like a marzipan-and-icing sky-blue statuette you might pop on top of a Man City supporter’s birthday cake should they also happen to be big into Tudor costume, the spook was… well, not very spooky at all really which rendered Macbeth’s unhinged reaction the subject of some puzzlement to an audience already trying to work out exactly what the heck was going on.
Could it be that there was some kind of link to the second scene when the sergeant, fresh from battle, reports to King Duncan, who just happens to be female but we’ll let that pass because we’re totally distracted by the sight of the Sarge, wriggling about like he’s being electrocuted, head-to-toe crimson, just like a statuette you might pop on top of a birthday cake for a Man Utd supporter if… well, you get the picture. It’s all pretty odd to be honest, we watchers not quite recovered from the first scene when the three witches - one of whom’s a bearded bloke but again, no matter - struggle into life out of some womb-like placenta sac to writhe around in a frazzled ballet of howling and birthing.
Strangeness abounds but, before anyone gets the wrong end of the stick, I should make it clear I’m OK with strange and, judging by the reaction of folks sitting around me, so are they. We are, as they say, lapping it up precisely, I suspect, because we have no idea what they’re going to throw at us next. Certainly the witch-y trio aren’t in any hurry to scarper and tend to hang around to weird us out, hauling corpses offstage when the occasion arises, which gives this new production, courtesy of director Wils Wilson, a heap more supernaturality than any other version I’ve ever seen because the scary sisters are usually consigned to mere soothsaying.
You want bonkers? You got it. Banquo’s a lady too, at least while she’s still alive, a gender-swop which, in keeping with recent RSC productions, doesn’t really say or do anything either to disrupt or to illuminate the action. And when we get to meet Lady Macbeth, she’s in a hooded pac-a-mac, squealing through puddles in the rain. She’s really great, by the way, Valene Kane drifting through the chaos as if in a dream. She’s the still-ish fulcrum around which the play unravels, the figurehead on the plot’s prow guiding us into deeply troubled waters. Her hubby is altogether more skittish, Reuben Joseph playing our eponym as if he’s freaked out on LSD. He even munches on a leaf to access a hag-wrought prophesy and, as the dreadful events unfold, rather than unhingeing as most Macnutjobs tend to do, he takes a contrary emotional steer and grows ever more cruel and callus and crazily convinced of his immortality. There’s a dark hint of comedy in Joseph’s portrayal of Macbeth, a kind of self-delusion that it is his mastery over the malign spirits, and not the obvious obverse, that is guiding his fate, and through this we feel some compassion for him, even at his most malicious.