Talking Movies

January 20, 2014

Macbeth

Being one of the Fundit sponsors of this production of the Scottish play at Smock Alley, this is an earnest attempt at a semi-unbiased review of Keith Thompson directing Macbeth.

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As I did stand my watch upon the hill I looked toward Birnam and anon methought the wood began to move

Thompson has directed and acted in several Shakespeare productions at UCD’s Astra Hall, and his hallmark brevity is at work here as Macbeth comes in at just under 100 minutes without an interval. The play opens with King Duncan (Finbarr Doyle) receiving news from a wounded soldier (Patrick Doyle) of Macbeth (Gerard Adlum) successfully suppressing a rebellion. His generous decision to reward Macbeth with the rebel’s title Thane of Cawdor backfires spectacularly, however, as Macbeth and Banquo (Conor Marren) have just been visited by three witches who prophesied receiving that title would be the first step towards Macbeth becoming King of Scotland. But it is not until Macbeth returns home, with the unexpected news that Duncan intends to stay with them, that the mischief really starts as ambitious Lady Macbeth (Jennifer Laverty) pushes him to murder Duncan and seize power…

There are no lulls until Malcolm and Macduff’s filler scene in this breathless production. Macbeth’s castle on the fateful night is a frenetically busy place, and Cait Corkery’s design cleverly utilises the Romanesque windows of the Boys School space by running stairs up to them to create a balcony, which Macbeth hides under at one point gripped by fear and guilt. The witches are druidic figures, appearing in hooded cloaks on three sides of the audience in the gangway above. And returning soldiers run down these gangways to gain entrance to the stage, injecting tremendous bursts of energy into Shakespeare’s tale of dark plotting. Eoghan Carrick’s lighting design emphasises the nocturnal aspect of the play, while his use of greens and blues in his night-time tints also subtly hints at the supernatural powers at work forcing Macbeth ever bloodily forward.

But a Thompsonian Shakespeare will always have naturalistic comedy, and here Katie McCann as an excitable Ross offers much background joviality, and also an unexpected personal note in her plea to Malcolm (Jamie Hallahan) that in his cause even the women of Scotland would fight against the tyrant. Meanwhile Patrick Doyle in a terrific performance in a portmanteau role at Chez Macbeth transforms the Porter’s speech into a series of ‘knock knock’ jokes told to various members of the audience, casually slits Banquo’s throat ending his indignation, serves drinks afterwards as Macbeth hastily dabs off Banquo’s blood from his cheek, smiles devilishly as he appears on the balcony to check the escape of Lady Macduff (Claire Jenkins) with the faux-innocent question ‘Where is your husband?’ and, as Seyton, stays by his murderous master till the bitter end of Birnam Wood.

Playing Shakespeare with a cast of nine, regardless of the cutting done, requires this sort of doubling; and everything works except for an unfortunately Lynchian moment when Macduff arrives to check on Duncan. Eschewing any crown for instead a chair and a ring,(which Macbeth continually twists on his finger because of his guilty conscience) it’s all too easy to forget that Finbarr Doyle is Duncan/Macduff, so for a second it appears Duncan has arrived to where he is to check if he’s sleeping… Doyle though is a notably gracious Duncan, and his Macduff has pleasing notes of integrity. He also engages Macbeth in a sword-fight which thrills because it is perilously close to the audience in this small venue, and, because of some tweaking of the text, looks rather like Macbeth is going to get the upper hand on Macduff.

Thompson’s cutting of the text puts us inside Macbeth’s head to a degree that makes him approach Richard III, except that instead of gleefully informing us what he’s going to do before he takes action, like Richard, this Macbeth is almost asking our advice on whether he should take action at all by outlining his qualms. Adlum has Macbeth simultaneously tempted and horrified by the witches. He has a painful awareness of what Jan Kott called ‘the grand staircase of history’ in Shakespeare’s plays. He knows that to kill Duncan will put him one level higher on the staircase, and will also create on the step he did occupy an equally lethal challenger to his new status. Laverty’s Lady M tempts him by pricking his vanity; she supplies the pragmatism for murder and immediate advancement, but not for reigning hereafter.

This lean production keeps our sympathy with a hero, first doing wrong out of fear of being usurped, who eventually collapses into amoral madness.

4/5

Macbeth continues its run at Smock Alley until January 25th.

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December 9, 2013

Macbeth Needs Your Money!

Do you want to fund an attempt to recreate the atmosphere of a production of Macbeth in Shakespeare’s Globe in Smock Alley? Then click on this link,http://fundit.ie/project/macbeth-1, and take your own tiny step towards being Geoffrey Rush in Shakespeare in Love – “Who are you?” “Ah, well, I’m the money”…

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For two weeks in January theatre troupe Fast Intent will convert the atmospheric Smock Alley Boys School space into a traditional Elizabethan Playhouse, a theatre of the type that Shakespeare himself would have recognised. In this heaving indoor cauldron; complete with Shakespeare’s favourite trouble-makers, rowdy groundlings who stand rather than sit because their tickets cost so little; they will present one of Shakespeare’s greatest and most thrilling plays – the brilliantly bloody Macbeth. Taking inspiration from research into Elizabethan and Jacobean staging practices they promise an engaging, thrilling experience, full of blood and guts, swords and shields, raucous crowds and high drama. Playing the power couple to avoid like the plague in medieval Scotland are Gerard Adlum (as Macbeth) and Jennifer Laverty (as Lady M), who both greatly impressed in previous Fast Intent production The Lark. Finbarr Doyle is the vengeful MacDuff, and the ensemble includes Patrick Doyle (fresh from his brilliant Harker in Fast Intent’s recent Dracula), Katie McCann, Conor Marren, Kyle Hixon,Claire Jenkins, and Jamie Hallahan. The set design is by Cait Corkery, and other crew members include Carol Conway and Caoimhe Murphy.

So why fund Macbeth? Star Gerard Adlum explains the appeal of the Thane thus: “He may not have Hamlet’s education, or Richard II’s eloquence, but Macbeth has a dextrous grasp of language and expresses himself with the ease of a poet, though his thoughts are never easy. Left to his own devices he deals in metaphors and similes, as if he desperately needs the audience to know that he is not a thug, not a brute. The challenge for the actor is not to prove his strength but to reveal his innate vulnerability.” For Adlum Macbeth’s key line of self-justification is ‘Things bad begun make strong themselves by ill’ – “This is the unfortunate logic that drives him on; two wrongs will eventually make a right.” Director Keith Thompson, a sometime co-writer and co-director hereabouts, has previously helmed productions of Richard III and Hamlet; the former starring Adlum as Buckingham. “I have wanted to direct Macbeth for years. It is both incredibly simple and complex. Complex in that it seems to cram into two hours the entire gamut of human emotions: love, hope, fear, desire, greed, guilt, loss. At the same time its speed and simplicity means there is no time to stop and think. Everything is truly experienced in the moment. It lends itself to constant re-interpretation, having something to say for each and every generation. It is human, raw and very, very messy.” Thompson finds Lady MacDuff’s line ‘but I remember I am in this earthly world where to do harm is often laudable, to do good sometime accounted dangerous folly’ “incredibly relevant to the world we are currently living in, where apathy is our common discourse and greed often not just considered lawful, but admirable. It shows that though this may have always been the case, there are always people who will identify it and struggle against it.”

So, that’s what they have to say. So why do I say to you fund Macbeth? Well, I’ve already thrown money at it because this is Fast Intent doing Macbeth. Fast Intent consistently pare back plays to their bare bones, and focus the audience’s energy onto the performances and the text. When it worked with Dracula it brought Stoker’s best prose to vivid, sensuous life. In The Lark it aided Anouilh’s theological ideas to sparkle across the stage, with real emotions grounding them in reality. And this is a cast that has proven itself at Shakespeare at a young age. While still in college Finbarr Doyle played Richard III with gleeful malevolence, Patrick Doyle played Macbeth with striking originality as distracted by visions, and Gerard Adlum played Lear with a startling maturity for such a young actor. But having a great cast is only one competent here. The key to successfully staging Shakespeare is not being afraid to cut his words. Reverence before his text too often is simply fear and trembling before the Bard rather than awe; and the result is a slow untheatrical death. But you need to have a confidence bordering on chutzpah to do the needful sometimes and meddle with the sacred scriptures. Keith Thompson, directing Hamlet in 2012, cut Polonius’ advice to Laertes, in its entirety, because he wanted a more serious Polonius. So, yeah, he has the confidence to pull this off bustling take…

Fast Intent’s goal is to raise €3,500, which will cover about half of the production costs; including costumes and hiring the venue – Smock Alley’s Boys School. The other half of the budget will consist of sponsorship from local businesses and by hosting various fundraising events. The contribution of Fundit donors is thus vital to the successful realisation of Macbeth. Fast Intent was established in 2011 by Sarah Finlay, Ger Adlum, Nessa Matthews and Keith Thompson. Their theatrical work to date has included acclaimed productions of Harold Pinter’s Ashes to Ashes (The Complex), Family Voices and One for the Road (both New Theatre) and The Lark by Jean Anouilh (Smock Alley). 2013 has seen them producing an entire body of work for Dublin Castle’s cultural programme, including historical monologue pieces for Culture Night, an adaptation of Dracula for the Bram Stoker Festival and the just gone Christmas show, Shakespeare by Candlelight. Rewards for funding at various levels are set out on the website, where the company also expresses its desire to have you asone of their “dearest partners of greatness”.

Go on, dream of sound and fury, and click http://fundit.ie/project/macbeth-1

August 7, 2012

The Lark

Anouilh’s strikingly modern take on Joan of Arc is performed in the strikingly antique Boys School space in Smock Alley.

The audience sit on benches in front of a stage, bare except for chairs and a chest, while the Lord Bishop Cauchon (Gerard Adlum) and the Earl of Warwick (Dave Fleming) discuss how they will conduct the trial, as if the audience were attending it in 1431, and inform us that they can’t enter the battles in evidence as they don’t have enough men to stage them… Eoghan Carrick’s spotlights aid fluid switches between the trial and flashbacks, while the monastic garb (with extra medieval caps and steeple hats for actors playing multiple roles) epitomises director Sarah Finlay’s high seriousness. This is a stripped-down production which demands absolute concentration from the audience on fierce theological arguments debated in front of a centuries old Romanesque wall.

Warwick, a sardonic Machiavellian, wants Joan condemned in order to discredit her crowning of the Dauphin as King of France. Cauchon, however, insists the Maid is not for burning. Joan is allowed perform her family’s disbelief of her visions and her encounters with her local squire and the Dauphin. The father-daughter scenes convince not only because of the striking height difference between the two actors but also Shane Connolly’s nuanced portrayal of an exasperated but loving father, beating his daughter to try and protect her from herself. Sadly the other flashbacks drag. Ian Toner is nicely leering as de Beacourt, eager to exercise his droit de seigneur, and also amuses as the mistress of the Dauphin, but both scenes outstay their welcome. Ruairi Heading’s turn as the Dauphin similarly suffers in comparison to his more tightly written role of the compassionate Brother Ladvenu. Indeed the second act crackles with energy purely because Anouilh eschews flashbacks.

Joan (Caitriona Ennis) is frequently the still centre of a hurricane of ideas. Toner’s hysterical Promoter sees a seductive Devil everywhere. Joan’s suggestion that God could damn a soul, free will be damned is pounced on by him as a terrible heresy but then forgotten, even though it’s arguably proto-Calvinism. More rigorous is Jennifer Laverty’s terrifying Inquisitor, who attacks Joan for elevating Man in importance against and over God. Though ultimately suspiciously Manichean for a defender of Orthodoxy, in insisting that man is evil because he is worldly, the Inquisitor intimidates the other clerics, and if it’s not specified by the script is brilliant casting by Finlay as Laverty stands in ultimate judgement over another woman. Laverty also scoops a great line rebuking someone for confusing “charity, the theological virtue, and the murky liquid known as the milk of human kindness”. Fleming is wonderfully droll as Warwick, but Adlum has the most interesting role and he is riveting every time Cauchon clashes intellectually with Joan.

Cauchon is desperate to save Joan’s soul, and distances himself from Warwick’s politicking. Ennis plays saintly simplicity very well, the ‘sign’ she gives of recognising the disguised Dauphin is done with the playfulness of a child, while her connection to God when rebuking her favourite soldier for swearing is as utterly self-conscious as her performance of God’s voice for the benefit of her interrogators. Ennis also displays some nice signs of self-doubt under the subtle questioning of Cauchon on what Joan would do if one of her soldiers started to hear voices countermanding her orders… The steel and righteous savagery of Joan the soldier though only appears once when, in a speech uncannily similar to the contemporaneous The Crucible, she renounces her abjuration in order to be true to herself.

Fleming’s English accent is close cousin to a certain contemporary politician, suggesting chummy but callous people always triumph. But self-immolating in protest about that won’t change society, and Anouilh refuses to endorse either Joan’s martyrdom or Cauchon’s mercy. Anouilh’s Joan literally prefers burning out to fading away, but a script so focused on complicated ideas surely implicitly endorses thinking over feeling. Joan temporarily changed the world by emotional force of will, but perhaps the question of Calvinism is left hanging to make us realise that if Joan felt the truth of Calvinism it took Calvin’s application of rigorous theology to make it a force. The lesson: only by understanding a conventional wisdom can one hope to permanently change it.

Fast Intent provides an absorbing production of a thought-provoking play.

3/5

The Lark continues its run at Smock Alley Theatre until the 11th of August.

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