macbeth ramp


Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton


The National Theatre’s UK tour of Shakespeare’s Macbeth plays Wolverhampton all this week on a journey that began back in September at Manchester’s Lowry Theatre.

The Scottish Play, as superstitious thespians prefer to call it, is arguably one the Bard’s most accessible, and certainly the most performed, works.

Themes of ambition, betrayal and ultimate madness combine to paint an uncomfortable picture of a man’s descent into paranoia and his consequent demise.

The play’s opening is perhaps one of the most well known. Three witches, the wyrd sisters, prophecise that General Macbeth will rise to be King of Scotland. Plot wise, it’s a pivotal moment right from the outset but the scene also serves to set the mystical, somewhat foreboding atmosphere of the play. The seeds are sown and there is no going back.

Director Rufus Norris is well aware of the power of the play’s opening and sets his witches on tall, pole- like trees set randomly upon the heath. It’s a striking image and gives added power to their manic ramblings and bird like physicality. Adding reverb to their voice increases the sense of impending doom.

Rae Smith’s set, though cut down from the original production at The National, is shadowy and textured, providing plenty of dark corners for sinister plotting and murderous activity. A huge, moveable ramp acts as a strong entrance and exit point for characters as well as serving as battlement walls and an extra playing space with added levels to play with. A simple but extremely effective use of the stage.

Michael Nordone gives a measured portrayal of the eponymous Macbeth, resisting the urge to taint his emerging paranoia with too much two dimensional madness acting. His thoughts and actions are subtle and considered, allowing more sympathy for a character whose writing is very much on the wall.

Kirsty Besterman brings out the manipulative nature of Lady Macbeth beautifully and with a mannered pace. Her control and influence over her husband is handled impressively by Besterman, painting a picture of fierce, ruthless ambition.

Comedy moments are limited given the nature of the narrative, but Deka Walmsley’s Porter provides some of the lighter moments. His observations on the effects of alcohol on a man’s performance are wonderfully delivered.

The fool is usually around somewhere in a Shakespeare play and this is perhaps the nearest we get here.

Accessibility to his work was always a big factor for Shakespeare. His plays weren’t meant to be seen by largely middle class audiences, sitting politely and paying a lot for the privilege. In his day, his plays were watched by every sector of society and had more of an atmosphere of a football match than a silent auditorium.

Apt, then, that the Grand Theatre last night was packed with coachloads of school children all studying the play. They may not have been totally aware of theatre etiquette. They may have sniggered and wolf whistled at the snogging scenes and they may even have giggled at some of the costumes. But the point is that they were here, and they were engaged. The Bard surely would have approved.

A strong and atmospheric version of a classic piece of work, kept alive, up to date and fresh in this impressive touring production. To 19-03-19

Tom Roberts


Rufus Norris talks about Macbeth, arts in schools and making the National Theatre, national.

The Scottish play, legend has it, was cursed by real witches who objected to Shakespeare's portrayal of the three witches, a curse which has filled the play with a sense of foreboding with stories of accidents and mysterious deaths for those involved ever since. Even the mention of it's name was said to bring bad luck.

It's doom laden reputation, though, could perhaps have more down to earth origins. In the days when theatre was the only entertainment in town, the play was a hugely popular one. It had deaths and swordfights a plenty, which always went down well with the crowds, and that, coupled with dark lighting, and often long runs, gave it much more chance of accidents than most plays, but that apart, it's popularity made it a favourite of struggling theatres. It became a last resort to put bums on seats and bring in some much needed cash. If it failed then the theatre could well go bust and the cast not get paid - which was curse enough for the actors involved.

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