Posts Tagged ‘macbeth’

Webcowgirl’s guide to surviving Rift’s Macbeth (Balfron Towers)

June 29, 2014

I’ll be publishing a tell-all review soon (since it’s sold out I want to have a good record of the show), but for you who want to preserve the air of mystery yet still need to know how to properly prepare yourself, here’s a few tips.

1. Do show up on time. The DLR runs only about every 10 minutes to the nearest station so allow for the extra wait at Stratford.
2. You’ll be asked to change to Bordurian money tokens, but don’t go wild – four quid per drink is enough, and you won’t want the hassle of changing back when you leave. Bevvies are limited to red/white, water, a few sodas, cheap mixer booze, and two juices.
3. Pee before you go in as the show starts immediately when you are walked into the sub-basement.
4. EAT before you arrive. The late night “feast” of borsht, sliced bread, and grilled peppers is wholly inadequate to normal caloric intake; I’d consider it an atmospheric snack. Any other food will not be forthcoming at any point (not even crisps) until breakfast so EAT BEFORE YOU ARRIVE. And pack a snack bar or two in your bag if you suffer from blood sugar issues. And for God’s sake don’t eat the thin yellow peppers.
5. If in the room with the three couches and the TV, try getting a corner seat facing the door to the hallway. (I’m not sure about the layouts of all of the areas where the show is being performed – there are three casts, I’m told – but I’m guessing the action is probably set up on similar lines.)
6. You may need to pee between scenes but if so go immediately after. I’ll never know just what was in that letter Lady Macbeth got, but she sure got excited about something.
7. In fact, for toliet timing, I suggest the moment immediately after Duncan is offed. The bit after is VERY LONG and does not feature anything in the play itself.
8. Smokers: you might want to secrete some on your body or bring e-cigs as after 5 hours you’ll be dying. There is patio access so you can get a smoke in, though it might be hard to figure out when you can do this without having a scene take place. My advice: the build up to the attack (Birnam Woods marching) is lengthy; it’s a nice time to admire the view even if you don’t smoke.
9. Is it worth spending the night in uncomfortable circumstances? No: the show ends before we go to bed so if you want to cab it home, you genuinely won’t miss anything in the morning. Staff was very accommodating about letting people get their stuff (including our confiscated phones) and leave early.
10. The beds (if you got beds) are actually pretty comfy: I slept like a champ and got in about 6 1/2 hours before we were awakened. However, there was one wash rag and a bathroom that was suffering from an excess of Damned Spots so be advised that the hospitality situation is quite straitened – even getting cups for water required a bit of an effort and you certainly won’t be bathing – just sleeping in a bunk bed.
11. Breakfast is served at about a quarter til nine and consists of tea, coffee, croissants, and fresh fruit. I found this completely adequate and really enjoyed visiting with my fellow hard core theater goers. Final checkout is at ten.


Mini-review – Macbeth – Little Angel Puppet Theater

October 28, 2013

I was excited about the opportunity to see Macbeth, one of my favorite Shakespearean plays, peformed in a format I enjoy a lot – the puppet show. The puppet Tempest I saw at the Little Angel two years before was genius, and I hoped for much of the same from this much darker play.

Of necessity, the play was stripped down, done end to end in about two hours and with no interval. This didn’t bother me; it is often necessary to adapt your source material to your performance format. And the puppets were beautiful and created additional layers of meaning to the characters; in this case, the trope was that the characters were birds, with Duncan a crowned swan (making for a very tragic death) and his sons two grey cygnets (always easy to pick them out). The lesser nobles (including Macbeth) are chickens (well, roosters, really). This makes for an almost comic scene in the death of Macduff’s “pretty little chickens and their dam,” but, actually, the slaughter of the baby birds in their nest was able to be far more bloody and sad than any production I’ve ever seen with human children.

However, the production was just understaffed to me. While the bunraku-style puppetry was executed quite well with just three performers (most impressive during the battle scene at the end!), this also made the use of a recorded, spoken soundtrack a must. And listening to this recording just took all of the power out of this best of plays. The Tempest I saw was all performed live, with a mix of human and puppet actors; but this felt a bit like a live action books on tape. Sure, puppets can’t move their faces the way humans do, but I think the decision to record the words was a mistake, and one that ultimately made a lovely bit of puppetry fall flat. Ah well, at least it was short.

(This review is for a performance that took place on October 5th, 2013. It continues through November 10th.)

Review – Alan Cumming’s one man Macbeth – Tramway, Glasgow (then Lincoln Center)

June 24, 2012

While I tend to avoid the cult of celebrity where theater is concerned (aided by my horrible inability to remember names), I have a few exceptions to this. Top of the list of Yes I Will See You In Anything As Long As You Are Breathing is Alan Cumming. I’m not going to be dishonest about it: the man is my idea of Sex On A Stick and the fact that I can pay mere money for the opportunity to be in the same room he is is a wonderful, wonderful thing – though the opportunities to do so to date have been limited (one concert, one Greek tragedy). It’s a crush that’s been going strong since I got a copy of the photobook of Cabaret back in 2003 or so – I never got to see him in it, but, man, the pictures permanently altered my brain chemistry. So when I heard that he was going to be doing a one man Macbeth, I went completely mad and booked tickets to Glasgow so I could see it.

“What?” you say. “This is an outrage, a complete slap in the face to the entire idea of ‘Life in the Cheap Seats!’ You can’t legitimately call your blog that – and rant about the cost of travel to shows outside London – while gallivanting off to Glasgow for an Alan Cumming jolly! You’re abandoning your roots! Next you’re going to be taking freebies to promote ‘Dreamboats and Petticoats’ and putting sponsored ads on your site! Backslider! Quitter! CHEATER!”

Well, er, yes. But it was my birthday weekend. And it was Alan Cumming. And the play itself was only 20 quid! And, you know, whatever. I WENT AND SAW ALAN CUMMING IN MACBETH WOOOO!

Right, um, so I thought I should review it, and warn you in advance that I really like Alan Cumming in a slightly, um, inappropriate way, so the things I liked may have little to do what any normal person would like. Still, though, I brought my critical eyes with me – but you have been forewarned.

First, the Tramway – to my horror, it’s a place that still does unreserved seating. Now maybe this does a lot to keep prices down, but to me a queue worthy of Easyjet snaking through the lobby thirty minutes before a show is not my idea of how to handle crowd control – and it placed an unreasonable pressure on us to get there early, ultimately meaning that dinner consisted of some biscuits in my bag (we got lost on the way). Still, it’s a nice sized theater, I was in the middle section, and for the price I knew I’d scored a bargain.

The set was a mental hospital, complete with green tile walls, observation windows, security code entrance locks, and … um … a giant bathtub. I thought this would give the opportunity for a nice comparison with the Martin Sheen “Hamlet” at the Young Vic and wondered (again) if there’s an industry doing Shakespearean shows as set in asylums … I’ve sure seen it a few times. And, per the program, this was NOT to be a “one person” Macbeth, for there were two other actors credited in the program! Was Myra McFadyen to be Lady Macbeth? What about Ali Craig, was he to be Banquo, Macduff, and the rest? How disappointing! This was not what I was promised! It said one man and I wanted one man! But then the show started, and Craig and McFadyen, in nursing uniforms, stripped the beaten and bloody Cumming down, placing his clothing in evidence bags and taking swabs from his cuts and from under his fingernails, and then … left.

Well, I thought, I think that will qualify it as a one man show, if they’re just window dressing for the opening scene. He screamed at them as they headed up the door, “When shall we three meet again?” and they paused, looked, then locked the door behind them.

The concept, I think, is that the Cumming character has been checked into an asylum after suffering some kind of critical attack, and is now reliving the trauma, characterized as Macbeth, on a daily basis. He talks to the security cameras (and a doll and a sweater), he calls for the guards, he is disturbed by the noises outside his room, he occasionally needs to be sedated. He is watched and notes are taken on his activities, which are occasionally broadcast by the TV screens at the top of the stage. He is brought tea, he is occasionally ignored …

and he is mostly left free to perform a version of Macbeth that is stripped down to about 1:50, a darn good trick but one which I will argue leaves too much detail in it. He warms up to it performing as the three sisters, all screaming at us through the TV monitors (this done live, while Cumming has his back to us), then proceeds to discuss, as Macbeth and Banquo, the content of the witches’ speech, what with the promises of kinghood for one and a line of kings for the other.

The show gets stronger as the Thane of Cawdor ponders his quickly changing circumstances, a thread strong enough to hold the story together as Cumming speaks King Duncan’s lines in accents I recognized as “plummy.” It helps that he goes from a true Scottish accent (his own?) to Posh English at this point – Macbeth seems to be mocking Duncan’s weath and sense of entitlement to his crown. Throughout this show, it had a distinctly more Scottish feel than any other Macbeth I had seen – a nice touch, I think.

Then, well, it was time for the bathtub, and the emergence of Lady Macbeth, whom Cumming portrayed reading her husband’s letter as she bathed. (Yes, he takes all of his clothes off, though full frontal is avoided through careful use of a towel.) Now, I see NO place for a bathtub in a home for the mentally disturbed, but this wasn’t my play, and, truth be told, I was happy to have it there. Cumming seamlessly translated from male into female, purring and sensuous and power hungry, clearly sexually excited by the opportunities she anticipated. And I was sucked in my her lust-mad eyes, pulled beyond the actor and into the character. Was this an insane woman? Oh yes it was.

The intensity is cranked up to its very peak when Lady Macbeth argues with her vacillating husband as Duncan sleeps within their home. As Lady, Cumming pins the (invisible) Thane to the bed, and speaks of horrible savagery that she would have him do, and which she would do herself; as Macbeth, Cumming squirms and despairs beneath her … finally convinced by her words and her seduction, flipping so that he is now the dominant one, ready to commit the murder that will have him be the king. This scene, surely, was the highlight of the play, dripping with sex and madness, violence and power. I was lost in the haze of Shakespeare, unaware of my surroundings. I was watching evil unfold before me and it was amazing.

However, at some point after this scene, the weight of the too-many characters in this adaptation began to pull down the production. Some things were handled well – one of the ghosts truly surprised me, though later reliance on inserted ghosts in the video screens above the stage were irritating (I want flesh and blood, or maybe shadows, but not acting that’s been pre-recorded). I’m sure the death of Lady Macduff and the grieving of Mr. Macduff must have been irresistible to play; but the jumping back and forth began to make things feel cluttered and caused me to pull back from the story. Then, finally, we came to the scenes where Craig and McFadyen are actually pulled in to read lines, and, I have to say, I was disappointed. They were part of the scenery or they were part of the story – I wasn’t willing to let them be both.

In the end, I felt myself a bit worn out by the whole thing. Cumming has to get bonuses for the energy required of this endeavor, but I think it needs to be pared more to take best advantage of what he is capable of, and stick to being true to its vision and less true to the text. We don’t need it; we know the story well enough and the characters call fall away and just leave us with the bare bones of the story and the incredible conflicts within it, the most powerful of which are those that take place inside of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s minds, and between the two of them as they wrestle with themselves and with fate. The audience at the Tramway gave it a standing ovation, but I think it just wasn’t quite there – a good night, a great performer, but a show which didn’t quite hit the mark. Still, Cumming tussling on the bed with himself – there’s something that will be burned in my mind forever.

(This review is for a performance that took place at 7:30 on Saturday, June 23rd. It was an awesome birthday present to me. It will be happening in New York soon at the Lincoln Center. And, who knows, maybe it will transfer to London! For a very nice interview with Alan Cumming, see this article in the Guardian.)

Review – Macbeth – Cheek by Jowl productions at The Barbican

March 21, 2010

It’s always a joy to discover you share enthusiasms with other people, especially coworkers. A conversation about dry project details can suddenly come to life when you take a detour to discuss really _important_ things, in my case, The Theater! And it was through such a conversation that I was given a tip to check out Cheek By Jowl’s Macbeth, currently playing at the Barbican. I was discussing my plans to see Henry V and Measure for Measure, and my colleague said that Cheek By Jowl was a great company and that I really needed to fit a trip to their Macbeth into my calendar. Well, okay then! It was mostly sold out, but then a few extra seats were added (in front of the rest of the seats – be warned that if you’re in AA your knees will be above your hips), and as the negative reviews came in for The Gods Weep, I had a consultation with my theater posse and we made an executive decision to ditch the four hour long Weepie in favor of a two hour long trip to Key Show By Bard. Because, really, what’s 25 quid lost compared to a night wasted at a bad show?

I am going to assume that this show represented the Cheek By Jowl style: the stage was nearly completely bare, the actors dressed mostly identically in black jackets or t-shirts and jeans (and black Doc Martins), the whole thing redolent of Ye Olde Emptye Stage. The cast created very strong effects through use of their voices and lighting and almost nothing else. At the beginning, our witches were but two, but all the men stood there whispering behind them, creating a forest full of evil. There was music and other non-vocal effects, such as knocking/banging and cymbal ringing, and even a phone going off. In the darkness, it worked together nicely to focus the attention on the story. Full credits for stagecraft here, except that in the incredibly powerful “Banquo comes to dinner” scene, the fact that Macbeth delivers his address to the back of the stage meant that even in the front row I could barely hear a thing he said – and for once it wasn’t the fault of the damned 17 year old school girl behind me taking notes on a crackling handful of lined notebook paper. I just could have killed her.

However, the performances by the leads were lacking somewhat. I realize I’m polluted by Patrick Stewart’s Macbeth three years back, but his acting conveyed to me clearly the character’s movement from hearty and happy to doubtful to corrupt and finally just plain mad; Will Keen started seeming partway over the edge and seemed to lack a grasp of moving toward madness, or even expressing it … well, with any subtlety. (I’ve complained about this before. Madness seems to be a hard thing to act out well; drunk seems to get practiced more and thus performed better.) I also found Lady Macbeth (Anastasia Hille) playing the part through a slimmer range than it deserved, though her final mad scene (“Who would have thought the old man had so much blood in him!”) was great; she just seemed too quick to kill in general. Keen certainly worked very hard at his Macbeth, and was a sweating wreck long before the play was over, but to me that just showed that his pacing was off, that he sprinted too soon instead of taking his time and giving it all an arc.

Of course, with a two hour, intermission-free running time, the whole play was a bit of a sprint, and I think, in retrospect, that, despite my general preference for shorter shows, it was this cutting that was the greatest fault of this production. The script is incredibly powerful, but most of the moments I had found most affecting in the past – Macduff’s wife’s scene, Macduff finding out about the death of “his pretty chickens” (which should bring tears to your eyes), the whole ghosty banquet – were rushed through and lost a lot of their emotional impact because of their dilution. Even though the staging was very good, Cheek By Jowl’s Macbeth unfortunately tended toward the Reader’s Digest Condensed Shakespeare. For that reason, though I think this was a “good enough” show, I really think it’s missable, fine if you want to get in some Macbeth (and probably far less painful than The Gods Weep) or have a free night, but, well, just basically good and competent, and maybe nice as an example of doing a good production without any props. Just don’t have anything to drink beforehand – two hours straight is still a bit much to not have a chance to run to the toliet.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, March 19th, 2010. This show continues through April 10th. For more information on Cheek by Jowl, please see their website. SansTaste saw things differently. For more reviews of this show, please see

Review – Macbeth (the Patrick Stewart one) – Gielgud Theatre

October 19, 2007

After spending the night thinking about what I’ve just seen, I have to say … it’s worth paying full price for this show. This isn’t “Patrick Stewart’s Macbeth,” it’s a fantastic, top-quality production of Macbeth that was so good at one point I heard the entire audience holding its collective breath for three minutes. I had goosebumps several times – never has the element of the supernatural in this play read more clearly. And this was also a play about evil, and it was very dark, even all the way up in the £20 seats.

The whole conceit of having the “weird sisters” played as nun-nurses was especially cutting, given the recent trial here of a male nurse who “chose when people would die,” as well as another story about NHS hospitals where the nursing staff told sick patients to lie in their shit because the hospital was more concerned about saving money than providing good care; it seemed very topical and extremely believable.

And the production values of this show were REALLY good. No silly “we need to make this hip for the young’uns” or “hey, let’s be cutting edge and use video:” instead, it was a single, static set that increased the claustrophobia (and yet performed as well as a dining room, a music hall, a train, a kitchen, and a hospital), lighting that served the show instead of itself, and use of (shock!) video that enhanced the story instead of calling attention to itself. Macbeth talking to a guard through an intercom and watching him on a security television? Totally believable. The … video of blood dripping across the walls? Ooh, baby, a white tiled set has never made me feel so creeped out before – it was like The Shining.

And the cast was good – the WHOLE cast (well, maybe not the ten year old girl), so this wasn’t Patrick Stewart’s “Macbeth” at all, like a lot of pathetic, celebrity-driven shows here. (Jessica Lange’s The Glass Menagerie proved you could ruin an excellenet script with weak casting.) The minor characters all had life – I mean, I saw them doing things on stage that made me think about them, and then they’d blossom to life later and be just as real as if the show had been about them. I remember seeing this done by a “Shakespeare in the park” group back home and it was all muddled who was who – but this was not the case last night.

Anyway, if you’ve been reading about how this is “the greatest Macbeth ever” or “the Macbeth of a generation” or some such overenthusiastic twaddle … I can’t say whether or not it was true, but I can say this is a truly great show. (I also enjoyed the company of , , , Mr. Mel, and – especially because now we can enthuse together and use it as a touchpoint for discussing how good or not other shows we see are.)

Four stars, baby. Go get your tickets now or join the people who said, “Yeah, I could have seen it, but …”

(This review is for a performance that took place on October 18th, 2007.)