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Tony Grist

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Patrick Stewart's Macbeth [Dec. 13th, 2010|02:10 pm]
Tony Grist
I watched Patrick Stewart's Macbeth last night. It's an opened up version of a lauded stage production- and full of the kind of expressionist touches that work very well on stage, but not so well on film.  The world of the production is a bewildering hotch-potch of times and places and cultures. The characters wear Stalinist uniforms and 1940s evening dress; the Macbeths live in an English country house with a Hitlerian bunker, hang out mainly in the kitchen and serve the meals themselves like a modern power couple;  Lady MacDuff and her children are murdered in a tiled space that is clearly labelled Ladies Changing Room; the witches are military nurses who use bits of their deceased patients in their spells; the weaponry is modern, but Malcolm leads his army from the front like a medieval warlord.  It's a very clever production- and would have been a better movie if three quarters of the clever stuff had been cut.

Stewart is magnificent. I thought he might be a little too old for the role, but he must be the buffest, most vigorous seventy year old on the planet. He has the menace, he has the bluff manly charm, he has the inner panic. It's a genuinely illuminating performance. This, you come away thinking,  is what dictators are like; this is what Stalin was like, this is what Mao was like.  Susan Fleetwood as Lady Macbeth is haunted and haunting. 

Unlike every other Shakespeare play of this stature Macbeth is short on great acting roles; the thane and his wife move among shadows.  That said, the supporting cast is terrific- and Michael Feast turns that old ram-rod MacDuff into a proper human being. The scene in which he receives the news of his family's death- and gulps silently for breath and composure-  is joltingly painful. 
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: clindau
2010-12-13 02:49 pm (UTC)
The image of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in the elevator at the end is particularly stunning. There they go, hurtling into hell.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-12-13 02:55 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I liked the elevator.
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[User Picture]From: wemyss
2010-12-13 04:05 pm (UTC)

I have always regretted...

... not seeing a full Hamlet with Ian Richardson as the prince and Stewart as Horatio.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-12-13 04:15 pm (UTC)

Re: I have always regretted...

One can never see too many Hamlets.

I've seen David Warner and David Tennant on stage- and several more in other media.
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[User Picture]From: sovay
2010-12-13 04:16 pm (UTC)
I thought he might be a little too old for the role, but he must be the buffest, most vigorous seventy year old on the planet. He has the menace, he has the bluff manly charm, he has the inner panic. It's a genuinely illuminating performance. This, you come away thinking, is what dictators are like; this is what Stalin was like, this is what Mao was like.

I am very glad; I have not yet seen this production, but based on his Claudius in Tennant's Hamlet, I've been really wanting to.

What would you have cut?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-12-13 05:06 pm (UTC)
The director- Rupert Goold- is a show-off- and the production is full of distracting directorial business- clever stuff that hasn't really been thought through. For example, it's clever to have the witches appear as military nurses, but what does it mean? Who or what does Goold think they are?

I'm an admirer of Trevor Nunn's Macbeth- with McKellen and Dench- a minimalist production filmed in a black space with a lot of close-ups and a fierce concentration on the text. Nunn's witches are a team- a young woman who channels the spirits and two older ones who control her. Nunn knows who his witches are and exactly what they're doing- and their lines (which Goold rushes through because he can't be bothered) make sense. Goold's production is full of unthinking theatrical bravura, but Nunn's is intelligent.
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[User Picture]From: ron_broxted
2010-12-13 05:03 pm (UTC)
I watched 5 minutes. Some punter gets shot. It is 11th century Scotland, why were they in Slovakian sodding uniforms from 1939?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-12-13 05:12 pm (UTC)
I sympathise. I nearly bailed out early too. It's a flashy, silly production, but worth persevering with for the sake of the performances. Stewart is a great Macbeth.
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[User Picture]From: halfmoon_mollie
2010-12-13 05:12 pm (UTC)
I am so glad to hear this. Maybe some day I"ll actually get to SEE it. MacBeth is the first Shakespeare play I ever saw (I'd read everything I could get my hands on, but seeing it LIVE is a whole 'nother story) and it is one of my favorites.

The last production I saw, the three witches were two men and a woman.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-12-13 05:18 pm (UTC)
In the text the witches have "beards"- which is a good enough excuse for having them played by men.

I saw Macbeth on stage in my teens in a production chiefly distinguished by the presence of the young Tom Courtney as Malcolm.
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[User Picture]From: clindau
2010-12-13 05:33 pm (UTC)
Also, in the Guthrie's recent production, the MacDuffs were murdered in a bathroom--the boy was drowned in the tub, Lady MacDuff was stabbed and dragged to the tub where her throat was slashed. Then the girl child, who had been cowering downstage center while this is happening quietly starts to sob. The murderers see her, and advance on her as the lights go out. Chilling.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-12-13 05:55 pm (UTC)
Brutal.

This production was fairly brutal too in its use of violence, though it spared us the full-frontal child murder.
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[User Picture]From: endlessrarities
2010-12-13 05:45 pm (UTC)
I missed it:-( J was in two minds whether to watch it or not - he doesn't like these clever-clever Shakespearean productions staged in modern dress. In the end, it was earlier than we'd expected so we watched the end of Tremors instead. Oh, how intellectual!!!
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-12-13 06:18 pm (UTC)
I imagine it'll be repeated.

Shakespeare's own practice was to play everything in contemporary (Elizabethan/Jacobean) dress. Putting Macbeth in 2Oth century battledress is no more outlandish really than putting him in carefully researched early medieval armour.
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[User Picture]From: veronica_milvus
2010-12-13 09:32 pm (UTC)
I really enjoyed it. Mrs Macbeth was a funny, bony creature in clothes that seemed to be threatening to fall off the whole time, but the set (Welbeck Hall in Nottinghamshire) was also a star of the show.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-12-13 09:54 pm (UTC)
Susan Fleetwood has the most amazing cheekbones.
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