Reviews: Macbeth, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh & Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen

THEATRE & DANCE

By Mark Brown

 

Macbeth

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Playing His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen, November 7-10

and Theatre Royal, Glasgow, February 19-23

NT Macbeth 1 - photo Brinkhoff Mogenburg
The National Theatre’s Macbeth. Photo: Brinkhoff Mogenburg

“Fair is foul and more is less” should be the witches’ proclamation in Rufus Norris’s large scale, but shambolic Macbeth for the National Theatre (of Britain). With its cast of 19 and a maximalist set comprised of large moving pieces (most notably a massive, arched wooden walkway that looks like half a bridge), it is an overwrought disappointment.

Indeed, if we needed proof that size isn’t everything, The Macbeths, Dominic Hill’s much reduced, two-handed adaptation for Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre, which was revived for a recent tour, is a better production by far.

The NT staging would be set, we were promised, in a post-apocalyptic Scotland envisioned by designer Rae Smith. However, anyone expecting something akin to the frighteningly bleak aesthetic of John Hillcoat’s remarkable 2009 film The Road (based upon Cormac McCarthy’s novel of the same name) will be bitterly disappointed.

What Smith has created is, not a vision of the world following an ecological catastrophe or a nuclear war, but, rather, a confused, shadowy, green nightscape that might be best described as mouldy, modern Gothic. The young witches (whose uninspired make-up and transparent plastic capes, courtesy of costume designer Moritz Junge, make them look like unenthusiastic Halloween partygoers) epitomise the disastrous design; although they are trumped by the distracting, cumbersome props (including a fragment of a modern house, complete with cavity wall insulation) which are rolled constantly around the stage.

Spare a thought, in the midst of all this, for fine Scottish actor Michael Nardone, whose muscular and, ultimately, nimbly insane Macbeth could have shone in a less silly production. As it is, this is simply the ugliest, clumsiest, most badly conceived Shakespeare production I have seen since, 18 years ago, Michael Bogdanov’s English Shakespeare Company set Romeo and Juliet in outer space with the Montagues as aliens and the Capulets as humans.

 

Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake

His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen

Playing King’s Theatre, Glasgow, March 5-9

Swan Lake
Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake. Photo: New Adventures

The promotional material for this revival of Matthew Bourne’s innovative 1995 choreography of Swan Lake describes the show as a “legend”. For once, the advertising people are not over-hyping their “product”.

There are few artists who bestride the gap between commercial success and artistic integrity quite so impressively as Bourne (the English choreographer is, perhaps, similar to American musical theatre master Stephen Sondheim in this regard). His Swan Lake has given generations of dance lovers an unforgettably different perspective on the iconic Russian ballet.

Most notably, Bourne’s choreography exemplifies his quest to draw more boys and men into professional dance (whereas the theatre needs to cross-cast leading roles to give more opportunities to female actors, dance has, thanks to outdated notions of gender and sexuality, found itself short of men). The transformation of the swans of Tchaikovsky’s ballet, from hyper-feminine, tutu-wearing archetypes into images of graceful, dangerous (often hissing) masculinity, is as brilliant as it is simple.

Bourne’s intent is clear from the very beginning, in which The Prince (danced in Aberdeen last Saturday afternoon by the excellent Dominic North) has an intense, homoerotic dream about The Swan (danced by the extraordinary Will Bozier). The ensuing ballet, with its gently satirised Royal Family (complete with corgi on wheels) and fabulously scuzzy nightclub (to say nothing of the Prince’s ludicrous, Sloane-ish girlfriend), is a bold, modern, comic triumph.

It takes great audacity and skill to create such a radical re-envisioning of a ballet which is as famous and revered as Swan Lake. Yet, Bourne and designer Lez Brotherston (whose sets and costumes are gloriously unrestrained) succeed utterly in creating a dance work that is constantly worthy of the great, swirling emotions of Tchaikovsky’s music.

This latest restaging is performed gorgeously throughout, not least in the audible, as well as visible, energy of Bourne’s bevy of beautiful swans.

These reviews were originally published in The Herald on Sunday on November 4, 2018

© Mark Brown

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