Xiphias Gladius (xiphias) wrote,

Brannagh's MACBETH

Earlier this year, the Royal National Theatre of London put on a production of MACBETH, starring Kenneth Branagh and Alex Kingston (who played River Song) as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. It was creatively staged, in an old deconsecrated church, with the audience sitting on bleachers on either side of the nave, and the primary action going on in the center of the nave. The apse was filled with candles, and some action went on there; the crossing was used for some throne-room scenes and things, and Duncan's bedchamber, things like that -- but most of the action was up and down the nave -- which was covered in a dirt floor, which rain effects in the first scene turned into a churned-up morass of mud.

This was a MACBETH turned up to eleven. I don't think anybody moved slower than a fast trot anywhen in the play, and it was mostly running. Everyone was emoting to a level that would make Shatner look understated.

This past Thursday, we watched the National Theater Live broadcast into theaters.

Me, I wasn't terribly impressed, but after reading reviews and thinking about it, I think it was a "you had to be there" sort of production. Having huge swordfights, a rainstorm, and gouts of flame shooting up just a few inches in front of your face would be VERY impressive: watching it in a cinema probably lost most of the point.

There were bits I liked, certainly: the witches, for instance, who were colored like stone and moved like they were animated by Ray Harryhausen. But, in general, it was TOO fast, TOO much. I realized that, if I didn't know what was going on, I wouldn't know what was going on. The production assumed that the whole audience was familiar with the plot of MACBETH, and they didn't have to emote too strongly to explain who people were, what they were doing, and why. It kind of felt like a production of "Great Scenes From MACBETH, Strung Together", rather than a coherent play.

It was a spectacle. And it depended on, well, "cheap theatrics". Now, let me be clear, I am a huge supporter of cheap theatrics in Shakespeare: as Michael Anderson pointed out in his monologue "A Bloody Deed", Shakespeare was ALL ABOUT the cheap theatrics. But Lis was lost as soon as Alex Kingston chasséd down the muddy field declaiming the contents of the letter Macbeth sent her; I was lost even before Macbeth and Banquo left the battlefield after talking to the Wyrd Sisters. It was just too over-the-top for us.

Like I said -- had we been actually in the room with the rain and mud and fire and so forth, it might have been different. But broadcast on a screen, it didn't work for us.
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