Writer: William Shakespeare
Music: Richard Taylor
Director: Daniel Evans
Reviewer: Jim Gillespie
The Public Reviews Rating:
The devil is in the detail, and much of the detail is often stripped from the Scottish play to better tune it to modern secular sensibilities. In this striking restoration of some of the more obvious demonology in the play, the Crucible has redressed the balance between superstition and psychology and given additional layers of depth to the production.
The plot of this tragedy is well enough known, but the scenes involving witchcraft are often trimmed, almost out of embarrassment at their childishness to 21st Century sophistication, but to Shakespeare, and more importantly, to his king – who had written his own text on black magic – such superstitions were no more improbable than the dreams of alchemy and the suppositions of the early scientists. The Crucible puts the cauldron back at the centre of the stage, imparts real power to the presentation of the black and midnight hags and their conjuring, and also reminds us of the religious affiliations of those who stand for good or evil. The sign of the cross is made, God is thanked in genuflection, and crossed swords become symbols of the standard for which the fight is engaged. Good versus Evil isn’t a poor billing.
And they do it well. The set is simple but inventive. Played in the round, a celtic stone circle serves as sufficient setting for all the scenes. The bullseye provides the gemstone for some of the most dramatic flourishes, from Banquo’s ghost popping out of the table centre to spoil Macbeth’s party, to the spiking of the tyrant’s head in the closing scene. Playing in the round creates some logistical problems for the removal of corpses not required in later scenes, but these housekeeping moves are well worked and largely unobtrusive. Sound and lighting are used to excellent effect, really adding to the tension or clamour, although once or twice they were used to excess.
The drab, murky period clothing was at first likeable as it did not intrude overmuch but as the show progressed a bit of colour or differentiation wouldn’t have gone a miss. Duncan’s saintly light grey hoodie helped, but even as royalty, the Macbeth’s were only permitted the briefest of foray into a palette which included red (naturally) alongside the obligatory muddy hessian.
Thus far, much to praise in this production, and much to enjoy. But this play depends so much on the credibility of Mr and Mrs Macbeth and at points there was some difficulty with both major protagonists. Geoffrey Streatfeild’s Macbeth did not hit his stride until Banquo turned up as party pooper. Before this he seemed uncomfortable in the role and his delivery of many of the soliloquys was off-hand, and certainly failed to give them the respect they are owed. Once he devolved more fully into the distracted and demented role of unsettled usurper, he seemed to find a place of safety. Claudie Blakley similarly cast dramatic jewels aside, and neither managed to convince of their nobility. The more regal their elevation, the less suited to it they seemed.
There were some strong performances from the supporting cast, especially Ashley Zhangazha as Ross, and John Dougall as Macduff, on whom much of the emotional charge for the second half of the play rests. As a revenge tragedy, it is essentially his revenge which drives the play to its bloody conclusion. Which said, I remain intrigued, but baffled why Macbeth – personally assisting at the dispatch of the Macduff clan (interesting touch!) – makes off with Baby Macduff and clings to the infant like a holy charm until he goes to meet his fate. An interesting but baffling touch. But this might have been one to intrigue the pedants who ponder how many children the Macbeths had.
There are weaknesses in the performances which are more than compensated for by the strength of the design and production. That it also manages to restore – with credibility – the sense of shock and awe at the darkness of the dark arts, makes this a production which takes a modern audience as close as any modern western audience is likely to want to go towards the vague forms of idolatry that still pepper and salt our everyday actions. Or has Harry Potter changed our perspective on such matters?
Runs until 6th October 2012
Macbeth - Crucible Theatre, Sheffield,