Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
Opened 17 April, 2007
It can be difficult to find the music in my native Northern Irish
accent: our cadence patterns mean that we seem to sing in a different
scale, as it were. Patrick O'Kane finds grand, rolling music in his
portrayal of the bloody thane for director Conall Morrison's RSC debut.
However, it comes at the expense of commensurate scale. Everything
about Morrison's production is huge and graphic. It would have no
trouble filling the Royal Shakespeare Theatre next door. But that house
is now closed for remodelling to make it more "playable", and this work
appears in the Swan Theatre, which is not only much smaller but
disproportionately more intimate. The opening minutes – a bloody
battle accompanied by the deafening battery of a Lambeg drum – offer an
exhilarating sensory shock, but the action continues in scarcely
diminished volume for the next three hours. Several of Shakespeare's
plays normally last this long, but not Macbeth, one of his shortest texts.
This length is also partly due to actors overplaying accents. Since
several of Morrison's major players are Irish, he asks most of the
others to attempt similar speech, with results at best variable (I
cannot imagine the First Murderer was meant to be Welsh); the
non-Caucasian performers go strongly African or Caribbean instead,
though in at least one case a black actor seems to settle on a highland
Scots lilt. "Prophesyings with accents terrible", indeed.
In contrast, Morrison's conception of the witches works wonderfully.
Appearing first as the reanimated corpses of Macbeth's victims in the
opening battle, they are seen mourning their lost infants and
consequently motivated by revenge; one, as the mysterious Third
Murderer, even whispers, "Fly!" to young Fleance, explaining his escape
from the deadly fate of his father Banquo. At every stage, one or more
of the weird sisters are orchestrating matters: manipulating dead
Banquo at the feast, playing the drunken porter, drawing the doctor's
attention to Lady Macbeth's guilty somnambulism.
Dearbhle Crotty is terrific as Lady M, skilfully negotiating a path
between Morrison's preferred playing register and a more conventionally
nuanced reading. One can see the very moment when she realises with
horror that her husband has overtaken her in the infernal wickedness
stakes. In later scenes, O'Kane's Macbeth seems almost drunk on his own
atrocity, veering from manic to maudlin within a few lines. It's a more
thoughtful performance than it generally appears, not least because
Morrison crams in enough sound and fury to equip any three normal Macbeths.
Written for the Financial
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights
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