Unforgettable Macbeth

I didn’t have a category for theatre, but our experience two days ago requires its own category. We saw an ‘encore’ of the live performance of Macbeth relayed to the cinema from a deconsecrated church in Manchester and starring Kenneth Branagh and Alex Kingston.

The stage was the central aisle and the apse of the church. The floor of the body of the church was a muddy heath and the sides were wooden hoardings, with the audience raised and confined behind them (I was reminded of the barreras in a bullfight). Witches appeared from windows and doors let into a wooden screen at one end. At the other, the apse (with a hard floor), was an oasis of calm lined with banks of candles and the stained glass windows soaring above.

The action, hemmed in by the hoardings on that narrow stage, on the mud, gave us ambition, love, power, anger, despair and spiritual agony. The noise of men and arms rebounding off the wooden sides created a real sense of physical effort and danger in the battle scenes. Emotions seemed heightened by being confined and channeled by the spaces.

The comic elements and the witches were introduced without destroying the tension. Every word was audible every line comprehensible, casting brilliant. The whole was potent and compelling beyond any production of Macbeth I have ever seen.

This was a short run for the Manchester Festival only, but I understand that the live recording will be going out internationally in cinemas in October. See it.

Books, Books, Books

In the last few weeks my reading has ranged a little widely, but unintentionally each book influences my reading of the next

Contested Will by James Shapiro – an excellent and absorbing analysis of the many, often hilarious, theories about who wrote Shakespeare. The astonishing thing is that so many people still believe one or other of these. The Shakespeare doubters fall roughly into two schools, those who believe that a shoemaker’s son from Stratford could never have achieved such sophisticated heights and those who believe that all writing is autobiographical. Shapiro deals painstakingly with the wide spectrum of theories and then returns the reader to solid ground with the contemporary evidence.

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey – the investigation into the true nature of King Richard the III, written as an immensely entertaining novel. I have read this several times before, it is still in print after 70 years. She makes her characters live and makes you love them. (Oh envy!).

The Right Attitude to Rain by Alexander McCall Smith – A slightly dour book, it is difficult to love the main character, Isabel. On the other hand, I have a strong sense of self-recognition; Isabel over-thinks and imagines full-blown scenarios out of the tiniest stimuli. It is uncomfortable to have your own failings brought before you. EG is enjoying it for its Edinburgh setting.

Beastly Things by Donna Leon – As always, Leon creates a good read and deals with important subject matter, in this case the introduction of meat unfit for human consumption into the food chain. Greed, nepotism, and the criminal underbelly of Italy are displayed, and set against the warm surroundings of Brunetti’s home life and cuisine. These stories are a little formulaic and the use of metaphor occasionally gets out of hand (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/may/23/rules-writing-block-metaphor), but still, especially for lovers of Venice, a good read.

I have started reading Fitz by Jenifer Roberts (in manuscript) – a lively and entertaining history of James Edward FitzGerald, a wayward, charming, talented man who was so influential in the colonisation of New Zealand. The story is much enhanced by the original diary material of so many of the men and women involved.