Sunday, June 17, 2012

"Macbeth" - June 2012

It's fair to say that at 'View From The Stalls' we're unashamed fans of Alan Cumming. His performance in "The Bacchae" remains the most electric and charismatic that we've seen on a Scottish stage; we immensely enjoyed his solo show "I Bought a Blue Car Today" at the Fringe a couple of years back; and we love watching him steal just about every scene on TV's "The Good Wife". So I'm absolutely stunned to be writing that 40 minutes into the National Theatre of Scotland's "Macbeth" we were both bored enough to be glancing at watches and horrified by the prospect of another hour of it. In the interest of balance it's only fair to report that 90% of the audience gave the show a standing ovation - but as we don't make any claims of objectivity I do also want to say that my shocked reaction to this audience response was an only-just-unspoken "You have got to be kidding me!"

We don't want to take anything away from what is an impressive performance from Cumming as he works his way through all the main players in what is more-or-less a one-man version of Shakespeare's tale. It's an immense challenge for any actor and he handles it remarkably well, but as a concept it absolutely killed the play stone dead for us. Without the genuine two-way interactions (and being able to see characters unspoken responses) it made it almost impossible for us to invest any emotion in them. All the characterisations are clear enough for those with a passing knowledge of the play - although those with no foreknowledge will likely struggle.

There could be some justification for the one-man aspect of the show through its setting in what appears to be a secure psychiatric unit but there isn't enough information given to the audience to make links between 'reality' and 'the play'. This isn't helped by the fact that I didn't really get any sense of 'the patient' having a damaged or fractured mind - just one that left him retelling 'Macbeth'.

Alan Cumming is arguably as big a star as Scotland currently has, and he deserves both respect and gratitude for his consistent willingness to work in Scotland. But I'd hope he wouldn't expect to be treated with kid gloves or given New York style automatic standing ovations. But that's what today (and some of the reviews elsewhere) felt like. 

Macbeth runs at Tramway until 30 June before transferring to New York.

Image by Manuel Harlan used with permission.