Foul the evening was, certainly in terms of the weather, when hardy souls gathered for last night’s outdoor performance of the Scottish play. Support staff kindly mopped steps and handed out blankets whilst we donned wet weather gear in anticipation of the night’s performance. It seemed fitting somehow that the play should go on “in thunder, lightning, or in rain” – a Midsummer Night’s Dream certainly would not have worked with damp fairies and such dreary skies. However, I was somewhat taken aback, when the witches opened the play, to discover that two were very effectively played by men: Matthew Bevington and Joseph Hartshorn. Indeed this casting allowed the ensemble to seamlessly move from blasted heath, to haunted feast, and finally to Dunsinane Hill and the denouement, Macbeth’s death.
Of course the ethereal trio were anchored by Louisa Swiergon, with understated female eloquence compared with the eviscerating performance of Helen Wilson as Lady Macbeth. This role is sparse but pivotal – it is she who foments the witches’ prophecies into regicide and “unsexed” completes the deed when her husband fails, and it is she who clearly loses her mind as a consequence of her actions. As her appearances are so brief and she is little discussed by other characters, save during her descent into madness, Shakespeare gives her little backstory for an actress to work with, which makes this performance all the more impressive in its clear emoting of a strong and powerful woman, all consumed by “vaulting ambition”, ultimately destroyed by her actions. There was no tittering at “out, out, damn spot” as the audience were affected by Lady Macbeth’s loss of emotional control and the stripping away of the strata of her power, self-confidence, self-belief and ultimately self-control.
Indeed this performance by Siege Theatre encompasses the central themes of honour and loyalty and the shifting sands in which they exist in this play, and in the performances of Kieran Donnelly, Kyran Pritchard, Simon Wilshire and Ian Jackson we see the interplay so common between powerful male peer groups; their desires and motivations. In his interpretation of Macbeth, Anthony Webster played the flawed hero as flotsam in flowing tides – from doughty warrior returning from victory, soiled and dishevelled the morning after Duncan’s murder, to febrile and deranged at the appearance of Banquo’s ghost. From this pivotal point he was indeed “a sorry sight” and the atmosphere darkened, shadows lengthened and at the moment of his undoing a gust of wind dramatically blew his throne crashing over. In the end, as foretold, Great Birnam Wood came to Dunsinane Hill and the man not of woman born killed the broken hero. The new world order is the old world order, the king is dead, long live the king.
And it is these perennial themes and beguiling characters which Siege Theatre’s Director, Michael Speight, intriguingly explored, deconstructed and interpreted. In spite of the challenges of the British Summer this was an immensely enjoyable experience clearly appreciated by the audience, who were stoic in the conditions. The play is running for another couple of weeks in the Castle Yard and I would recommend going along. My only concern – it might not be as dramatic and as dark a performance in fair weather.