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A CurtainUp Review
—Review at Bam by By Elyse Sommer
( London review by Charlotte Loveridge)
Moving Shakespeare's plays into different times and places has become more common than staging them by the book. Facist backgrounds seem to be especially popular. Thus setting the overly familiar Scottish play in Stalinist Russia, which was no stranger to power plots and assassins, is merely one aspect of Goold's sight and sound spectacle. Its bloody (literally), never a dull moment inventiveness made it a big hit in London— and have made the limited transfer to our shores a hot ticket.
The deep, wide stage of BAM's Harvey Theater is well suited to the stark unit set that serves as battlefield, hospital, morgue, train and the Macbeth estate. The grimy tiled walls that look like one of New York's unrenovated subway stations regularly explode with video projected pictures of forests, marching soldiers and splattered blood. A gated elevator, usually filled with smoke, makes for highly dramatic entrances and exits A sink that at one point spurts blood from one of its faucet is a permanent downstage fixture. Props such as beds with wounded soldiers and a huge banquet table come and go smoothly and as needed.
The 1950s Russian background reinforces the play's atmosphere of underhanded schemes and assassination. Not to take anything away from Patrick Stewart's and Kate Fleetwood's Macbeth and his lady and their large support cast, this production's most remarkable coup de theatre comes courtesy of the weird sisters. Dressed as nurses these ghoulish angels of mercy are major players. Instead of a steaming cauldron you'll see these body bags wriggling to life as part of their awful prophecies.
Though our London critic was blown away by Goold's creative direction but not Patrick Stewart's performance, the success of any Macbeth hinges on the interpretive power of its title character. I'm therefore happy to differ with her (see link to her review below).
What makes Stewart's Macbeth so interesting is that he is a soldier but, at least initially, also a self-reflective thinker. His being an older than usual Macbeth actually adds complexity to his character. Seeing this man, still fit enough to be a commanding military man and virile mate of a much younger woman makes it easy to understand how his own ample ambition is fired up by the trophy wife he wants to indulge. Watching this thoughtful military man abandon any sense of morality is driven home with particularly icy irony in the scene when he casually makes and eats a sandwich as he orders two underlings to kill Banquo. And speaking of Banquo, the ghost scene is a stunner in terms of shock value and the originality of its twice-told presentation.
Kate Fleetwood's Lady Macbeth convincingly moves from cool manipulation and pragmatic acceptance of murder ("what's done is done") to mental collapse. Both she and Stewart give new resonance to dialogue that has become clichéd over time. Michael Feast is an equally satisfying Macduff. You may think you've heard his reaction to news of his family's murder often enough for his words to no longer stun and surprise, but wait until you see Feast's delayed but oh so potent reaction.
I could go on about other inspired directorial touches — like the Russian songs and the Macbeths' guests doing a broom dance similar to a game of musical chairs. But you get the idea. This production lives up to its advance buzz and if you can get a ticket, go for it. It's definitely one of the best and most unusual Macbeth you're like to see in a long while. BAM deserves our thanks for bringing it to our shores.
To read our London critic's review of this production, go here; to read other Macbeths Curtainup has reviewed, see our Shakespeare page.
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