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Macbeth

Tramway, Glasgow
4 stars


While setting Shakespeare in a psychiatric ward isn’t a new idea,
neither is it uncommon for real life patients in such institutions to
construct such elaborate self-destructive fantasies with themselves at
their fragile world’s centre. Both concepts rub up against each other
in the National Theatre of Scotland’s boldly audacious reimagining of
the Scottish play, which sees Alan Cumming act out the entire play
alone onstage for an hour and three-quarters. Flying without a safety
net, Cumming opens himself up physically, mentally and emotionally in a
performance of fearless bravura.

It starts with Cumming’s character being sectioned and stripped of his
twenty-first century apparel by two nurses played almost wordlessly by
Myra McFadyen and Aly Craig. With fresh scars embedded into his chest,
as Cumming calls to what are both captors and protectors with the
Witches ‘When shall we three meet again?’ line, there are hints of a
domestic massacre and a possible failed suicide attempt to have caused
his incarceration.

Watched over from all angles by a trio of CCTV cameras, Cumming pads
about Merle Hensel’s towering brick-lined set in search of healing his
fragmented self, but finds only a succession of voices tearing him
apart. In the bath-tub he lays splayed and naked as he recounts Lady
M’s ‘unsex me’ speech. A wheelchair becomes a pukka King Duncan’s
mobile throne which Cumming’s own Macbeth-possessed psyche lays
troubled claim to. Most significant of all, a doll is battered into
submission and a child’s jumper pressed down heavily into the
bath-water.

John Tiffany and Andrew Goldberg’s production reimagines Shakespeare as
a cycle of self-laceration where often the silent moments are the most
significant. With Cumming at its centre, the heady tangle of strength
and vulnerability he presents us with makes for a brilliantly troubling
play for twisted times.

The Herald, June 16th 2012
ends

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