manchester international festival's macbeth

macbeth - national theatre live
Seeing the Manchester International Festival’s production of Macbeth presented by National Theatre Live in the Palace Nova movie theatre was something of a unique and slightly odd experience.

The performances took place in a deconsecrated Manchester church in July this year and were filmed by National Theatre Live, so it's something of a hybrid between a movie and a live theatre performance.

I can imagine actually being in the audience at the church would have been an incredible experience, the performance takes place in the the nave or middle aisle of the church, while the audience is seating along the two aisles to either side.

Also adding to the unique set up for the play was the fact that the nave was also covered in a layer of earth, which made for a very different aesthetic and performance space and added a layer of pseudo realism to the fact that wading through dirt would have been a common occurrence at the time the play was both written and set. This was compounded by the fact that they somehow managed to make it rain inside the church during the opening battle scenes, turning the earth to mud.

I did feel a little like it was getting in the way at some points... I was more aware of the fact that the actors were having to slog through this layer of mud than I would have liked, and it meant that certain moments lacked a little bit of elegance as it's hard to walk across an uneven muddy surface.

Otherwise the church was an absolutely gorgeous setting, especially the alter area which is dressed with a large number of candles.

I'm going to be honest, although Kenneth Branagh has done a lot of Shakespeare in his time, I wasn't overly captivated with his portrayal of the titular Scottish thane. In fact the whole thing felt a little... melodramatic, if I'm being completely honest. Not just from Branagh, but from all the actors. I know it's Shakespeare and one of the tragedies and as such has a heightened sense of emotion and drama, but it felt a little bit much. Especially when it meant that a lot of the performances seemed to be permanently pitched at about 11.

I think I was also expecting some of the River Song style strength from Alex Kingston's portrayal of Lady M, but again her performance seemed to be coming from a more melodramatic place, especially the "out, damned spot! out, I say!" seemed a little over the top given some of the more haunted versions I've seen of that scene.

I really, really wanted to like this... but I have to say that I've seen better versions.

I was also a little disappointed with the three witches... generally you can tell a lot about a production by how they treat the witches, but they went with a version where they screeched a lot of their lines and although they turned up on stage at a few points that weren't specifically witch scenes, I didn't think their makeup and costuming choices were completely memorable. Yes, they looked unnatural in dark grey shift dresses and matching facepaint, but I just wasn't feeling it.

There were a few unique touches... most notably casting Banquo as a much older man (Jimmy Yuill) which then meant that Fleance (Patrick Neil Doyle), his son was a young man in his twenties rather than a child... but also their interpretation of Birnam Wood as shields constructed of thin branches.

So all in all, while it was an interesting experience, it wasn't the best one that I've had with Macbeth.

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