I read Shakespeare’s Macbeth when I was fourteen in my year 9 English class. English was (and still is) my favourite subject, but at that age I really didn’t have any interest in Shakespeare. I only began to enjoy Shakespeare when I began studying Hamlet for my A Levels; I’ve been hooked ever since.
The reason I remember the plot of Macbeth so clearly is because I had to re-enact one of the scenes for my year 9 drama exam. I played the lead, clad in a corduroy blazer and pencilled on moustache. My friend played Banquo and another three friends played the witches. I won ‘best actress’ and a £10 cinema voucher and I felt like a God. (I also realise that I was encouraging androgyny at a much earlier age than I even realised…)
…anyway, enough of my reminiscing. The point is, I haven’t actually had any kind of contact with Macbeth since this time. That was until last night when I saw James McAvoy playing the eponymous character at The Trafalgar Studios in London. I am not exaggerating when I say that the performance and the production took my breath away.
I will freely admit the only reason I took an interest in Macbeth again was because it was JAMES MCAVOY portraying him. I’ve been a fan of McAvoy since his days in Shameless and have enjoyed every film I’ve seen him in, my all time favourite being Atonement. He’s a fantastic actor, has beautiful blue eyes and a mesmerising Scottish accent. Of course I was going to try and get a ticket to see him. I was very lucky to get the £15 Monday-only tickets that encourage those who wouldn’t/couldn’t normally go to the theatre to attend. Not a bad price to see a piece of Hollywood.
I was also eager to see Claire Foy as Lady Macbeth. I’d watched her in the BBC adaptation of Dicken’s Little Dorrit and thought she was excellent. She did not disappoint; she delivered all the famous lines perfectly and held her own opposite McAvoy. Their chemistry on stage was fierce and fascinating. They laid all kinds of violence on each other, disguising it as passion and love. It was barbaric and beautiful watching them scream their lungs out at each other.
McAvoy was, as expected, a force to be reckoned with. From the moment he threw himself in to the spotlight he was relentless, pronunciating like a pro and making every moment his own. My favourite part was his second meeting with the three witches in which he drank from their cauldron and proceeded to wretch and spit his lines out all over the stage. It was repulsive, but raw and compelling; I could not take my eyes off him.
There was also an excellent turn from Jamie Ballard as MacDuff. His reaction to the news of the murder of his wife and children was heart-breaking (I nearly spilt a few tears over it.) His final showdown with Macbeth was more bloody, brilliant and satisfying than I could’ve imagined.
Director Jamie Lloyd’s decision to use apocalyptic style costume, set and lighting to portray the grimness of Macbeth’s Scottish Kingdom works successfully alongside the classic script. His excessive use of blood also made everything more grotesquely thrilling.
Seeing the production last night has made me re-realise the power of Shakespeare’s plays. One of my teachers used to insist that we should see the plays and not just read them as the two experiences are completely different. He couldn’t have been more right; on paper Macbeth was a mass of words and confusion to me, on stage it was a world of horrific entertainment.
Eve Best is directing Macbeth at The Globe this year. I was planning on going anyway but after seeing last night’s production I cannot wait to book my ticket. It may have been James McAvoy that got me interested in Macbeth again, but it is the play itself that has made me realise that I should never have neglected it.
(Also, for anyone else wondering, James McAvoy’s eyes really are THAT blue. I was only 6 rows from the front so I can testify to that.)