Monday, July 22, 2013

"Macbeth" (MIF / NT Live) - July 2013

With tickets for the entire run at Manchester International Festival selling out in nine minutes, it's fortunate that NT Live enabled us, along with thousands of others, to watch a live broadcast in cinemas around the UK and beyond.   The pairing of Kenneth Branagh and Alex Kingston is clearly one that features on many "Macbeth" dream cast lists, and it would be convenient to put our general sense of disappointment down to overly high expectations.  But in truth, despite glowing reviews just about everywhere else,  and some fine moments of spectacle, it was just a bit bland.  There's a distinct lack of any stamp of creativity or new take on the play.  Is it asking too much to want to remember the production in future as something other than 'the Macbeth where they traipsed through a lot of mud'?

There's no doubting Branagh's ability to deliver Shakespeare in a clear and accessible manner, and his ability to deliver a perfect tear on demand is truly impressive, but there seemed little behind the words to give insight into the character. For her part, Alex Kingston has no difficulty in bringing the text to life, but as a performance I found it largely forgettable - save the overcooked sleepwalking hysterics which stay in the memory for all the wrong reasons.  As a classic treatment of Macbeth it would make for a great 'study text' for schools, but brings little new to anyone familiar with the characters - and even with co-director Rob Ashford's pre-show interview giving crib notes as to how they perceived the characters' motivations, I saw no real evidence of this once the play began.

Yet, there are some great performances elsewhere in the cast.  I was just about on the verge of giving up on the play and joining Waldorf in her 15 minute snooze when Rosalie Craig as Lady Macduff revived my interest with a performance more affecting than any other on the night; closely followed by Ray Fearon's portrayal of Macduff's grief on learning of her fate.

I'm really glad we saw this, and can tick a 'Branagh Shakespeare' off our non-existent 'to-see' list (albeit virtually - although I don't think seeing it in the flesh would have been any more rewarding) but I can't say it made much of a lasting impression on me.

Macbeth has completed its run in Manchester, however recordings of the live broadcast are being shown in limited cinemas over the next few weeks.
Image by Johan Persson used with permission.