No more heroes for Macbeth

20th February 1998 at 00:00
MacbethCitizens' Theatre, Glasgow. Until March 7. Macbeth is good news and bad + news. By tradition it is bad news for theatres, who only put on the "unlucky" + play because they are short of money. For schools, it is always good news; at + the last count, 92 per cent of school children study the play, and theatres + putting on "the Scottish play" can bank on school buses in the car park. More + good news for teachers taking parties to the Citizens' is that director Robert + David MacDonald has taken his scalpel to the text, added a handful of tiny + improvements of his own, and run the play straight through without an interval + in 97 minutes. Missing are the opening "war correspondent" passages, Lady + Macduff and much of the scene in England. Likewise the final battle is much + shortened, and every cut serves to throw the central character into greater + prominence. This is Gerard Murphy's second Citizens' Macbeth (the first in + 1979) and this time round he brings a middle-aged, battle-hardened and + careerist military leader, for whom "vaulting ambition" simply comes with the + territory. This is not a man whose mind could ever be "full of + scorpions".Rather his rhetorical style holds both the supernatural and the + personal at arm's length, and mocks the doubts and fears that might undermine + him. This "cool" style lies at the very centre of MacDonald's dispassionate, + humanist view of the play - a tragedy of "no more heroes" in a world without + spiritual dimension. The witches, for example, are three disinterested men, + played by actors who at other times are Ross and Angus, the three murderers, + the Doctor and others. Evil, MacDonald is saying, is not "out there" but in + ourselves, our envy and jealousy, fear and despair. Except, that is, for Lady + Macbeth. Anne Myatt delivers the traditional "fiend-like queen", utterly + humourless, monomaniac in her ambition and iron-hearted in her determination to+ persuade her husband to regicide. When she demurs from murdering Duncan + herself, on the grounds that he resembled her father when he was asleep, you + sense it was for her no more than an irritating coincidence. Even in the + sleep-walking scene, where you might see a broken woman and a mind diseased, + she seems to be suffering from a treatable sleep disorder. Lady Macbeth, you + feel, got no more than she deserved. Instead, the tragedy is of the common man,+ represented here by Brendan Hooper's Porter, in an increasingly dishevelled + dinner suit. What was for Shakespeare a comic interlude between Duncan's murder+ and its discovery is gently inflated by MacDonald into the running joke of a + comic drunken butler, undone by a bottle he steals from the banquet, who + thereafter seems to belong to another play or even music hall. It is in every + way a sobering epilogue that Malcolm's victorious rejoicing, accompanied by the+ jolly "Sports Report" band music, is counterpointed by the Porter cradling and+ mourning his own dead son. Much of Macbeth's enduring appeal is in the way it + blends "mist and mystery" with the most accurate observation of human + behaviour. This production is strong on "mistery", with Kenny Miller producing + a disorientating set of medieval stairways and spaceship doorways, with costume+ and lighting similarly ancient and modern. But even in this timeless setting,+ it is important that human nature is sharply observed, and that the precise + writing is respected. If Macbeth says the phantom dagger is drawing him in the + direction he was going, then it should. If Lady Macbeth is going "directly" to + bed, then she ought not to be heading for the guest bedroom.

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