David Shopland’s grandfather was an actor and his father a publisher. With that sort of background it comes as less of a surprise to learn that at the age of fifteen he was allowed to direct Brecht’s The Life of Galileo with his Year 10 physics class.
There is a good deal about his production of Macbeth to suggest that that earlier experience shaped his development as a director. Most of his cast are young and the performance bounces along exuberantly. The apron stage (with a visible upper area) is restructured before our eyes by two or three young women as we watch. They rearrange some red boxes, trestles and a table top/screen to suit what is to come. Sometimes, of course, they are becoming witches as they work.
Talking of witches, these giggle and laugh a lot. I’m not talking here about the eldritch cackling which most Macbeth witches have practised to perfection, although they can manage that too. These, essentially are apprentice witches, but not any nicer for that. Sometimes the changeover from stagehand to wich comes as quite a shock, which is, of course, deliberate.
The one slightly older member of the cast is Jonathan Curry, who plays Duncan––but not, for reasons I could not guess, Duncan’s ghost.
Nothing in the remarks above should be taken to mean that the moments of high tragedy scattered through the play are traduced in any way. Rather these moments seem to evoke sudden corporate realisations by those involved of the shocking awfulness of the events that are taking place.
The play as a whole, of course, shows Macbeth and Lady Macbeth as people who have found themselves in a position to do terrible deeds, which they hope, mistakenly as it turns out, will be to their own unexpected, but deserved, advantage.
Andrew Venning speaks the role of Macbeth very well, and I don’t mean to suggest that in any elocutionary way. His desperation in
“Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased,
Pluck out from the memory a rooted sorrow,
Raze out the written troubles of the brain,
And with some sweet oblivious antidote
Cleanse the fraught bosom of that perilous stuff
Which weighs upon the heart?
was as powerful, yet also as wretched, as any I have heard.”
I hope that nothing I have written will be taken as meaning that this Macbeth is not worth seeing. No one experiencing the play for the first time will be in any doubt as to what, in addition to the story it tells, it is about and how it achieves its intentions. And those of us who have seen it before (even those, like myself, who have in their time directed a school production of it) will find themselves responding powerfully, quite often in unexpected ways.