right of reply Macbeth
Mark Rylance claims not to read the crits, so Matthew Francis, artistic director of the Greenwich Theatre, steps in to defend his star's much- maligned production
Wednesday 04 October 1995
But thank you for contributing to a brouhaha that has kept our box- office phones ringing from dawn to dusk. You see, when critics use words like "freakish", "weird", "outre", "bizarre" and "astonishing", our audience knows that something is going on that is almost certainly non- conformist and new.
Mark Rylance and his team have set Macbeth in a world of contemporary cult religion, and turned the noble warrior into an ardent devotee of a Krishna-like sect. The flavour of the production is somewhere between Le Grand Macabre and Pulp Fiction, with an up-to-the-minute exploration of the play's magic and mysticism that acknowledges all our modern-day obsessions with the occult, divination and esoteric therapies. When Banquo says, "If you can look into the seeds of time and say which grain will grow and which will not", or when the witches are busy brewing up their cauldron of alternative ingredients, we can see a society only made remote from our own by the medieval trappings in which it is usually dressed.
But some people don't like their Shakespeare to be too immediate, too dangerously set in the recognisable world of 1995. This doesn't seem to be a problem for most of our audiences, however, especially the younger among them. Eavesdropping on a school party at half-time last night, I heard comments like "Brilliant!", "Great!", "It's not like this at school." The visual vocabulary (pick-up truck, saffron robes, parkas, phones) makes the play accessible, and the absence of an inflated rhetorical style (which many still equate with good verse-speaking) means that a young audience can hear the text clearly and really believe that it has something to say to them.
Too little mention has been made of the production's many ideas and conceits. I was particularly struck that the Porter becomes the watchful Old Man, then a reluctant Third Murderer, who actually helps Fleance escape, then the Messenger who warns Lady Macduff that she and her children are in danger - thus turning four briefly glimpsed characters into one study of compromised benevolence. And it's a great coup to have Young Macduff - lately murdered by Macbeth himself - return as a ghost (a "cream-faced loon") to tell Macbeth that the English army is approaching. And why has nobody mentioned Clare Van Kampon's powerful piano score, or Rick Fisher's atmospheric lighting?
I can put you right on a couple of points. The work the company put in on the play was detailed, exacting, well-researched and utterly coherent. Their grasp of the text and a whole range of its contemporary implications is impressive. And let me assure you of something else. The Globe is in good hands. The unholy schadenfreude to which some of you gave vent in your reviews, predicting disaster for London's newest theatre, could not be more misplaced. Rylance is a director of outstanding vision, diligence, commitment and audacity. The Globe is lucky to have him. Greenwich will vouch for that!
Finally, bear in mind the terrible fate of Percy Hammond - who, as Simon Callow reports in The Road to Xanadu, gave a dyspeptic notice to Orson Welles's famous voodoo Macbeth in 1935. The show's witch doctor cursed him with a particularly virulent chant. His notice appeared on Tuesday, he took ill on Thursday and was dead by Sunday.
n Greenwich Theatre: 0181-858 7755
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