14 Jul Macbeth
Directed by Andrew Hilton
February – April 2004
Production Photos © 2004 Alan Moore
This production transferred to the Barbican’s Pit Theatre, running in repertory there with The Changeling from 23rd September to 23rd October.
Rebecca Smart 1st Witch / Gentlewoman
Saskia Portway 2nd Witch / Lady Macduff
Zoe Aldrich 3rd Witch / Lady Macbeth
John Nicholas King Duncan
Tom Espiner Malcolm
Jamie Ballard Donalbain / Doctor
Chris Donnelly A Sergeant / Murderer
David Collins Ross
Dan Winter Angus
Gyuri Sarossy Macbeth
Rupert Ward Lewis Banquo
Tom Sherman Lenox
Ben Tolley Servant / Young Siward
Jonathan Nibbs Macduff
Felix Lehane/Ben Scobie Fleance
Roland Oliver Porter
Matthew Thomas Seyton
Paul Nicholson Siward
Alex MacLaren Menteith
James Hilton/Michael Smith Young Macduff
Lou Jeffrey Violinist
Juliet McCarthy Cellist
Director Andrew Hilton
Set & Costume Designer Andrea Montag
Set Redesign (Barbican) Vicki Cowan Ostersen
Edition Dominic Power
Composer / Sound Designer Elizabeth Purnell
Lighting Designer Paul Towson
Costume Supervisors Jane Tooze (Bristol)
Kate Whitehead (Barbican)
Sound Designer Dan Jones
Fight Director Kate Waters
Fight Captain Tom Sherman
Voice Coach Gary Owston
Researcher Katie Knowles
Production Photographer Alan Moore
Production Managers Clive Stevenson (Bristol)
Adam Carree (Barbican)
Technical Stage Manager Christian Wallace (Bristol)
Technician Matt Roper (Bristol)
Stage Managers Hazel Doherty & Pauline Skidmore
Assistant Stage Manager Jayne Byrom (Barbican)
Costumes made by Bristol Costume Services
★★★ The Guardian Andrew Hilton is a plain Shakespearean cook, but you can afford to be plain when your ingredients are of the finest quality: insightful acting even in the smallest roles, excellent verse speaking, clear story-telling, an intimate setting and a good eye for detail. Hilton’s Macbeth has all these qualities, and it deserves to be heading to the Barbican later this year where it will fill with no difficulty one of the gaps left by the reckless departure of the RSC.
There is a hunger for Shakespeare that treats both play and audience with respect and refuses to impose directorial concept. In Gyuri Sarossy’s performance you see a decent man corrupted, a man who struggles before evil gets the upper hand. The murder of Banquo seems all the more terrible because of the brief but real flash of affection that Macbeth has for him early on. Sarossy’s Macbeth isn’t a man who just snuffs out the stars, he suffocates his own humanity.
There are other good things, too – such as the entwining of sex and death in the relationship of Macbeth and Zoe Aldrich’s cool, young Lady Macbeth. It may be merely to save on another salary, but Aldrich’s doubling as a witch suggests a heart that has already let evil take root. Not that these witches are of the magical variety, rather they look like ordinary village women. They have the resentment of those who have been poor too long.
The absence of the supernatural means the production lacks atmosphere, and it takes things at far too leisurely a pace. But Hilton juxtaposes innocence and horror to good effect throughout, from the murderous Macbeths behaving like conspiratorial children in their night-gowns, to the image of a young child gravely offering his hand to the man who will murder him. Lyn Gardner
★★★ The Independent … Just as a picture-restorer strips away centuries of dirt and nicotine to reveal the glowing colours of the original work underneath, so the director Andrew Hilton picks away the fancies and fetishes that are so often attached to Shakespeare, to leave a freshly minted text, set on a neutral backdrop of directorial restraint and craftsmanlike acting. This enables the onlooker to use their own imagination and to (re)discover that in terms of pacing and dramatic structure Shakespeare wrote less like today’s playwrights and more like contemporary TV and movie scriptwriters. It is when the play is stripped down to the bare text performed on bare boards that the true timelessness of the drama in Macbeth leaps out most clearly.
That is not to say that this is a bland and featureless staging. But the touches that it adds are subtle enhancements. Macbeth and his wife (Gyuri Sarossy and Zoë Aldrich) do not need a plasma TV, his’n’hers video mobiles and a chrome cappuccino maker in their kitchen for us to recognise them as an ambitious executive couple caught up in the heady adrenalin rush of climbing the corporate ladder. Jonathan Nibbs’s Macduff is a pleasantly prissy homebody, not natural hero material but a man driven into the hurly-burly of bloodstained politics by the atrocities perpetrated on him by Macbeth. And Rupert Ward-Lewis’s Banquo has a praetor-natural stillness even in life, as if the mark of death is on him from the start.
Now in its fifth season, Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory still offers the perfect opportunity for anyone put off by Shakespeare by a bad past experience to see his work in an unadulterated form and discover why his fans rave about him. And for those already persuaded of his brilliance, it offers the chance to see how much more brilliant he is when his work is not being staged by people trying to dazzle the punters with their own rays of light. Toby O’Connor Morse
★★★ The Independent (at the Barbican) … Performed on Vicki Cowan-Ostersen’s platform of bare boards, the production has a stripped-down directness, a quality that is reflected in the performances. The three witches are no mysterious or malevolent hags, but unusually young and comely, like adolescent girls dabbling in the black arts. They experience premonitions while convulsing as if in a fit, giggle over their bubbling cauldron and writhe sensually as they cast their charms.
Gyuri Sarossy is a similarly youthful Macbeth. Returning as a war hero as the play opens, he is a military star, fit and vigorous and filled with the thrill and bloodlust of battle. But there’s an immaturity about him that finds its balance in Zoë Aldrich’s Lady Macbeth, who seems to be both wife and mother to him. Sarossy’s Macbeth vomits at the mere thought of murder until, with tender cajoling, his soft-voiced lady talks him round. Once a killer, and hence a king, and tormented by his crime, he comes to her, wild-eyed and wailing, “O, full of scorpions is my mind”, as if he were showing her a cut finger. Yet moments later he is grabbing violently at her crotch, demanding a far less maternal form of comfort.
It’s a dependency that works both ways: the room where Lady Macbeth sleepwalks, with its shrouded cradle and rocking-horse, appears to be a disused nursery, suggesting that her husband is in some way a repository for her love for her dead children … Sam Marlowe
Macbeth stands with King Lear at the centre of Shakespeare’s work – the twin pillars of his tragic vision and the greatest account we have of what it is to be a man (to be a male, but also to be of humankind). But though both plays are imaginatively and emotionally demanding, they are not (as they have often been characterised) either despairing or cynical.
Certainly they stand in sharp contrast to the early ‘festive’ comedies – to A Midsummer Night’s Dream and As You Like It in particular – where the forces of Nature, for all that they might be found mischievous and trying, ultimately prove benign. In the great tragedies Nature is terrifying indeed, never more so than when its forces are gathered in chaotic and cruel humanity, fed by fear, ambition, avarice or lust. Lear’s stupidity in dividing his kingdom into three releases energies in his family that almost destroy England. Lady Macbeth’s determination that her man will be crowned leads Scotland similarly near to the precipice – to the rolling back of the civil state, to the near-complete destruction of that complex of conventions, mutual trusts and obligations, and the rule of law, which we term civilisation.
Where the vision is at its toughest and most shocking is in the sense that humane society, goodness itself, is never ‘safe’ (a word crucial to Macbeth), but must be constantly rediscovered and remade – and that these renewals will often be achieved at the eleventh hour, for only then will good men dig deep to fight for what they value and believe. The gentle Duke of Albany and the untested Edgar, in Lear; the thanes of Ross, Lenox and Menteith and the young Malcolm in Macbeth all make this difficult journey. But they do come through.
Shakespeare is clear, too, that the temporary triumph of evil brings neither joy nor content. The psyches that annex these destructive forces are tormented, restless and needy. Shakespeare is a master at the dramatisation of loss, and of the loneliness that accompanies wilful, selfish destruction. He also excels in those brief but eloquent touches of humanity – sometimes carelessly, or deliberately, banished from productions of Macbeth – that render the evil that threatens them shrill and unenviable. Andrew Hilton