I went to the theatre at the cinema yesterday- you know- it’s a theatrical performance with cameras- and it works very well.
I went to see the Kenneth Branagh “ Macbeth” which has had rave reviews all the way through its run at the Manchester Festival. I was really looking forward to it.
And it was dreadful. I have never see such a train crash. Kenneth Branagh was brilliant as Macbeth, obviously- he’s a born Shakespearean actor- it’s in his blood. I’ve never seen him put a foot wrong. And he was a terrific Macbeth- thoughtful, uneasy at the start, and as he travels down into his personal hell, he becomes petulant, childlike, horribly aware of what he’s gained – the throne of Scotland- and what he’s lost- his own soul.
I have no complaints about Ken Branagh- it was everything else that let him down. The play was put on in a deconsecrated church and the playing space was a long narrow rectangle- perhaps twenty yards on one side and three or four on the other. The audience sat , facing each other on the long sides. Well, that was problem enough. It meant that you could never have any depth in grouping the actors- there wasn’t room. And they had to be in constant movement up and down, so that the audience could see them.
But then they turned this narrow rectangle into a muddy lane. Real earth, real mud. It was great in the battle scenes- they even had real rain pouring down. But all the interior scenes went for nothing. The great banquet, where the ghost of Banquo reappears, was a modest table with six IKEA stools,- set down in the mud. All the intimate scenes between Macbeth and his wife were, it appeared, set in a field.
When you see a play, you suspend your disbelief, right ? You know it’s just actors, pretending…but you go along with it for the story. The only time I got involved was when Branagh was speaking. The rest of the company were passable, or would have been if they hadn’t had to tramp through a morass to say their lines. The witches- crucial to any “ Macbeth”- were- I’m really sorry about this, honestly- utterly dreadful. Painted green, they writhed in the mud and talked like Daleks. The Porter scene was unintelligible- as was the Porter.
This “ Macbeth” was set in the non-specific distant Scottish past, which meant that all the men wore sacking kilts dyed with potato peelings and all the women wore generic medieval frocks. The battle scenes at the end looked like the British Lions taking on some tough opposition, and there was much brandishing of swords and Manly Hugging ( sounds like a little village in Gloucestershire) at the end. I breathed a sigh of relief when it was all over. Me- the man who would offer a pint of his own blood to see a Shakespeare play.
And what do I take away from all this ? Even Kenneth Branagh makes mistakes. Shakespeare is bullet proof, and will survive another day. But the thing that cheered me up was that the cinema was crammed- and not just with old fogies like me. People came and saw and no doubt made up their own minds.
That’s got to be good. Eh ?