The Scottish Play at Dock X, London

Starring Ralph Fiennes & Indira Varma, directed by Simon Godwin

So this production of Macbeth which played in Liverpool and Edinburgh has reached London before heading off to Washington DC for its final leg. Staged at each location in a warehouse/conference centre, this allowed more atmosphere setting around the show – a dark entrance hall with ‘M’ banners, the entry to the auditorium through a blasted heath full of urban detritus (below), a burnt out car, rubble everywhere, military chopper noises overhead, the set, a grey thrust stage with steps around its sides and at the back up to balconies, all is grey and warlike in front, black everywhere else. Army fatigues, lounge suits and other modern dress were the sartorial order of the day.

The Blasted Heath

You all know enough of the play, I’m sure, so I’ll just comment on this particular production. My friend Tash and I booked months and months ago, and waiting for the play to start, were both certainly caught up in the atmosphere. On came the weary soldiers and the feel was set. Then we encountered he three witches, portrayed by three very different young women (Lucy Mangan, Danielle Fiamanya and Lola Shalam, pic below), all individually dressed in distressed, punky, street gear. They were different, until they were a perfectly timed chorus in their opening, and indeed the ‘weird sisters’ appeared throughout the play, watching from the sidelines, the threesome seeing all. Brilliant!

The witches

As for Macbeth and his Lady: Fiennes played it straight, being the weary commander at first before being overcome by the enormity of what he had done. The dinner party scene where Banquo’s ghost kept appearing allowed him to alternate between boozy bonhomie with his guests and sheer terror as his Lady looked on with increasing worry, was excellent. Banquo was played by Stefan Rhodri (Dave Coaches from Gavin & Stacey) who loomed silently as the accusing spotlit ghost after being Macbeth’s loyal right hand man. Sadly for me where Fiennes fell down at times was in his old-school style enunciation, which was sooo precise, every ‘t’ and ‘d’ was pronounced which stilted and impeded the flow of his speech a little. The star of the show for me was Indira Varma. I knew she’d have fire and steel inside, but also vulnerability later and she didn’t disappoint. A special mention goes to Jonathon Case as Macbeth’s manservant Seyton, who got increasingly edgy and worried as he saw more atrocities, going to warn Macduff’s wife that they were coming for her. With the soldiers bringing Birnam Wood through the audience to the stage’s Dunsinane, the production took every opportunity to bring on people from all points around the auditorium throughout.

It was great to be in the room to see this production, you were immersed in its world and that worked very well. However, I think I’ve yet to see a great Macbeth, although Indira Varma was super. This production was streets ahead of the RSC one I saw live with Derek Jacobi and Cheryl Campbell back in 1993 which was just awfully staged, and upstaged at the end by Jacobi’s obsesssive fans of the period who bought up the front row every night apparently and chucked flowers on the stage at the curtain calls. I’ve seen countless versions on screen, Patrick Stewart’s 2010 one sticks in the mind, as does Joel Coen’s more recent The Tragedy of Macbeth with Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand in the leads which was beautifully shot and designed.

Sadly, the rival current and apparently sonically innovative Donmar Warehouse production with David Tennant and Cush Jumbo is sold out. Macbeth, being one of Shakespeare’s shorter plays, and still on the English syllabus, is ever popular; I look forward to my next encounter with it.

But I shall finish on a personal anecdote:

The 8,300 seater Roman Amphitheatre, Orange.

In spite of all the above, my most formative encounter with Macbeth is through Verdi’s opera. My late mother was an alto in the Philharmonia Chorus, and each year they performed at the Roman amphitheatre in Orange, Provence in their Chorégies festival. In 1978, they did a staged version of Macbeth and that was the year I got taken along having finished my A-Levels. I forget who played the title role, but American Grace Bumbry was a truly haughty Lady Macbeth, and never more so than in the drinking song at the dinner party. (Here’s a link to Anna Netrebko singing ‘Brindisi’).

But back to my Mum – she was one of the witches, and during one of the rehearsals, she tripped entering the amphitheatre from the platform behind and fell into a gap between the stage and Roman stone trapping her leg for a good while! She was eventually extricated by the sapeur pompiers, luckily only bruised, sheepish and cross at the same time, but she diligently carried on after a rest and restorative! I was embarassed of course, and drank far too much cheap wine with dinner, leading to my first really big hangover much to my dad’s amusement! Those were the days…

3 thoughts on “The Scottish Play at Dock X, London

  1. Lory says:

    Whoa, I’m so glad your mom was OK! Not felled by the Scottish curse…
    I have only read this play, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it either on stage or screen. The device of having the witches always present sounds like a good one.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      She was complaining loudly in her Northern Irish accent about health & safety, which I remember so well! It’s hard to believe you’ve never seen Macbeth, it lends itself so well to so many styles and interpretations.

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