Cheek By Jowl have long enjoyed a
reputation for the clarity with which Declan Donnellan’s staging
represents spatially the power and emotional relationships between
characters. Increasingly, however, I am coming to wonder what virtue
lies in representation when actual presentation might be at least as
useful. The company’s latest Macbeth
is an object example.
The production is nigh-unmatched at showing the bonds between Macbeth
and his wife. In the wonderful duologue that surrounds the murder of
King Duncan (“Macbeth does murther sleep” etc.), Will Keen’s thane
repeatedly tries to quit the scene, to be physically wrestled back into
place by Anastasia Hille as his wife. In Act V, Lady Macbeth does not
exit after her sleepwalking scene but sits, still and mute, her chin
cupped lovingly by her husband, his preparations for battle almost
offhand as he contemplates her and what they have shared. This is
terrific stuff, not least because it directly presents us with their
intimacy. It contrasts with the more extreme introspection of Keen’s
Macbeth, who truly delivers all his soliloquies to himself and even has
the text re-ordered on occasion to facilitate additional soliloquising.
But he is far from the only character who does not connect. The first
occasion on which one character speaks a line directly to another is
some way into Act I, Scene 3; everything hitherto is delivered into the
Often the stylised staging robs us not simply of the superficial
appearance of naturalness, but much of the underlying import as well.
The 12-strong cast are adept at showing suffering: writhing when
stabbed and the like. But this is not a play solely about suffering, it
is also about action: the actions of Macbeth and others which
physically, violently bring that suffering about. Not once is any
violence seen to be done at all directly until the two fights in the
final battle scene; even then, the swords themselves are mimed, but at
least the combatants are in physical proximity to one another. The rest
of the time the perpetrators stand off to one side or upstage and make
their definitive gestures, while the victims fall, quite disconnected.
It may all be a thoughtful representation of Macbeth’s compulsion to
internalise, but things do
happen as well, and need to be presented.
Written for the Financial