Tag Archives: Macbeth

Macbeth – RIFT

Having thrown myself into this immersive theatre lark recently and as quite a fan of Shakespeare, the idea of an overnight Macbeth in a ‘secret London location’ was irresistible.  It was a little ambiguous as to whether the actors would be performing throughout the night with the whole play stretched over 12 hours or it was just going to be a late finish, but given that a ticket included sleeping arrangements (Hard – bring your own sleeping bag, Soft – you get a campbed, Deluxe – you get a bed), there was only one way to find out.

In anticipation that some of you have bought tickets and are waiting for your performance date, here are some important tips for you:

  • Wear comfortable shoes – you’ll be wandering about a lot.
  • Take a few warm layers with you – while the whole thing takes place inside the building in the height of summer, when the windows or balcony doors are open (or you are out on the balcony), it gets a bit nippy once it’s got dark.
  • Get there before your start time – there’s a few things to do before it actually starts (i.e. fill in a medical form).
  • Have something to eat before you go – there is a small vegan meal included, but it’s served quite late in the evening and you’ll need sustenance for all that wandering about.
  • Hard and Soft have changes to the sleeping arrangements (a bit of an upgrade!) – check your email.

Here endeth the tips.  The below contains spoilers.

On arrival at Balfron Tower, I went through the security check point of Borduria where I handed over my phone, filled in a medical form and almost had time to exchange money for Bordurian currency (was running late due to getting very lost at Stratford International trying to find the right DLR platform).  We were then escorted by Uri, Borduria’s finest security guard to enter the Rift between fact and fiction and step from daylight into a very dark underground car park….

Where I was promptly terrified by a witch.  I don’t know where she came from, but she appeared next to me very suddenly, before my eyes had had a chance to adjust to the dark.  I carried on walking ahead, following the rest of the people in my group, only to look round to my side and find the witch still walking alongside me as the other two appeared out of the gloom.  We gathered around an oil drum with a fire lit in the top for the opening scene.  Macbeth appeared along with a few accomplices, their military styling perfectly at home in the brutalist architecture.  As we walked along, we were treated to one of Macbeth’s cocky, self-assured soliloquies with knowing looks.  A strong start.

We were shepherded round to the entrance where our guide, Ivana was waiting.  We were ushered into a lift where there began a lot of deadpan instructions (pure comedy) as we rose up to the higher floors.  I’ve often wondered if immersive theatre could ever tackle comedy and it seems that it can, I just wasn’t sure if Macbeth was necessarily the right vehicle for it.  We were then taken up to a bar where we could buy drinks with Bordurian currency (luckily soft drinks were free).

As the evening progressed, we were ushered into various rooms, sometimes with other groups, so that we were taken to scenes, or scenes were brought to us.  We soon worked out that the flat we were taken to on repeated occasions was the flat we’d be staying in for the night.  While the scenes were good, there were often long gaps in between – I can only presume the actors had to do the same scene a few times over in various flats before the show could move on to the next bit.  These gaps were often covered with TV reports of ‘Birnam wood is on the move’ from man on the scene, Uri (We love Uri!  He should have his own show) or something from our guide, but usually some sort of comedy which frequently had us helpless with laughter.

But then suddenly we’d be jolted back to drama as Macbeth would storm into the room for an argument with his wife as they try to cover their tracks or an uneasy stand-off with Macduff.  Then they’d be out again and we’d either sit and wait or be ushered off to another room.  There was a frequent loss of impetus as the links between scenes are a long way from seamless.  This is where the logistics of promenade theatre become incredibly exposed.  As an audience, we were never quite sure when it had actually finished – we’d all settled down for drinks and a chat when a scene was brought to us – after this we were moved onto another bar.  After a few minutes, exhaustion kicked in and it was very much time to go to bed (a bunkbed rather than a campbed was much appreciated!)

But as I was there on opening night (presumably their first time with an audience that isn’t made up of their family and friends for dry runs), I am prepared to be forgiving.  They have set themselves an enormous task and are so close to pulling it off.  There are many things to like about this production: The acting I saw was brilliant and the guides remained in character at all times, even when things seemed to be going slightly awry.  There were also some lovely little touches to the set dressing such as a wedding photo of the Macbeths and the bloody bed in Duncan’s flat.

Macbeth is the perfect production for the building and comedy is a brilliant way to manage the gaps between scenes – I’m just not sure that the two things belonged together in the same show.  But if RIFT want to try their hand at a through-and-through comedy in promenade (with Uri, of course), I will absolutely be buying a ticket.

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Sleep No More NYC (Punchdrunk) – Visits 1-4

My name is Gail and I am addicted to Punchdrunk.  A couple of months ago I was still in single figures on The Drowned Man, but was starting to get itchy feet.  I loved the show (and still very much do), but I found myself craving the magic of initial discovery – of climbing stairs, of peering around doors, of coming across actors mid-scene, never quite knowing what I’d find next.  There really was only one thing for it: a trip to New York to go and see Sleep No More, Punchdrunk’s take on Macbeth, with a 1930’s film noir twist.  Possibly one of the most expensive theatre expeditions I’ve ever been on, but thoroughly worth it.

Sleep No More has been running since 2011 and while I may “only” be up to 12 visits on The Drowned Man, some of the SNM superfans have clocked up over 70 performances and naturally have flown over to London just to see TDM (and some of them are already over 30 visits on that – I’m pretty sure they must be selling souls on eBay).  This has developed into something of an exchange programme with fans helping each other to get the best of each respective show, especially given that with flights, hotels, tickets and annual leave to consider, you might only be able to fit in a finite number of shows in any one trip.

After a lot of financial calculations (to get as much ‘bang for my buck’, as they say) I finally settled on 4 shows, every night Saturday to Tuesday.  With tickets purchased, there was then a fine balance to be struck: how to get the most out of 4 visits whilst retaining most of the magic.  Thankfully, some SNM fans kindly compiled a guide to help me (and others) to wander with purpose, to identify characters quickly yet without spoiling any surprises.  I was hesitant to read such a guide, but curiosity got the better of me and I was glad that I had read it before going in.  Any TDM fans planning to see SNM absolutely MUST read it before going.  It gives you one or two vital clues which will give you the best start you could possibly wish for, but without ruining anything.

The most important thing I found was to go in with a good solid knowledge of Macbeth to help ascertain characters – who they are in relation to each other, not just by the guide.  That and to be prepared for it to be crowded almost everywhere (but especially on the stairs), which makes it difficult to follow complete loops and to be prepared to lose an actor whom you’re following.  But the Hitchcock-esque styling is spot on and adds a real chill to the evening’s proceedings.  I was also lucky enough to be put in touch with some of the SNM superfans, so they met me post-show to help me mull over everything that I’d seen – I was immensely grateful to them and plan to return the favour if they come to London.

Here endeth the musings – the following video contains just the music from my favourite scene, which I must’ve watched 10 times across 4 visits, purely because it has the most exquisite dance sequence and truly evokes that 1930s glamour.  Beyond are spoilery details from all 4 of my visits.  If you have plans to see Sleep No More for yourself, here would be a good place to stop 🙂

Oh you’re still here.  Marvellous…

Visit 1
Due to a long immigration queue at JFK airport, I arrived at The McKIttrick Hotel much later than planned.  But I made it nonetheless and worked out that by the time I got in (pushing on for 8pm – it had started at 7pm) they’d be coming up to finishing the first loop and starting the second.  Having been through the usual drill with masks and a lift, I stepped into the dimly lit world.  I did as recommended in the guide and headed straight down to the basement to watch the sublime dance sequence that takes place to the above music.  Although my guide had hinted that Macbeth would be found on the balcony one floor up, so having spotted a man who fitted the description looking down to the dancefloor below, it seemed foolish to wander away from him.  To my complete surprise, I actually managed to stay with him for a whole loop, even if I didn’t always have the best view and had to really leg it up and down the stairs on several occasions just to keep pace.

This is a man who is browbeaten by his power hungry wife – their tempestuous relationship demonstrated by some powerful and violent choreography contrasted with moments of fragility e.g. the scene in the bath, above.  Spurred on by prophecies from the witches (including one mindblowing rave scene complete with strobes, lasers and thudding D&B, culminating in a hedonistic bloody ritual) one murder soon leads to another and another.  He suffocates King Duncan, caves in Banquo’s head with a brick and savagely beats the heavily pregnant Lady Macduff to death.  Even at his most cold-blooded, none of it ever seems to be enough for his wife.  Finally he is executed by the vengeful Macduff – the sight of his hanging corpse over the audience is truly haunting and there is something unnerving about the creaking noises seamlessly drifting into the faintly romantic ‘And A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’ as we were led back into the Manderley bar.

Visit 2
If there are 2 things that really don’t mix, it’s a day of sightseeing on foot around New York followed by 3 hours of Punchdrunk.  Perhaps the McKittrick has magic floorboards that absorb the pain in your aching feet or the action is just so fascinating that it takes your mind off everything.  But having seen a good portion of the action yesterday, I decided to find out what was on that mysterious top floor – I found myself following a Male Nurse through a creepy looking hospital/asylum.  I was quite shocked by how rude some of the audience were (waving hands in front of his face, motioning that they were going to mess up the neatly laid out desk – it was all I could do not to thump them).  We wandered back and forth between the ward and the laundry room as he painstakingly laid out pyjamas on each bed.  There was a lot of this.  Eventually there was a dance in a window frame and a dash through a maze of twigs (both very evocative), but when I saw him go back into the laundry room, I decided it was perhaps time to go and find one of the other characters downstairs.

I found myself back at the scene where Macbeth murders Lady Macduff and the heartbreak as Macduff finds her sprawled out on the floor.  He scoops her up for one final dance and then gently lays her down on a chaise before leaving for a final act of vengeance.  But I found myself compelled to stay with her – there’s a real gentleness to her character, a lone nurturing figure at the mercy of the power struggle that surrounds her. Yet she seems constantly vulnerable and on edge: anxious about some impending fate. She plunges herself into ritual and superstition as a source of familiarity and comfort. Her dance at the top of a bookcase (where she seems to have stashed religious icons away from the view of her husband) is troubled and strangely harrowing for something so subtle.

I found myself back at the rave eventually, but having got there a bit earlier, I was just in time to hear and see something I’d missed the previous night in the mêlée of crowds and strobes: Hecate. Every inch the 1930s glamorous Hollywood blonde bombshell in a scarlet ballgown, she cackles manically. Had I not heard this, I may never have seen her. Her influence over the other witches is tangible, borderline Stockholm syndrome. Following her loop, I started to see the full extent of her Machiavellian streak and how she toys with all the other characters.  I was lucky enough to receive one of her 1:1s where she tells the story of a ship lost at sea – after plunging a paper boat into a teacup, I was dragged into a dark cupboard and had water sprayed in my face while she rocked me back and forth, howling with laughter. A chilling night.

Visit 3
I’m not a 1:1 hunter, but with only 2 visits left, I found myself with an urge to fill in a few gaps. So with the knowledge that Lady Macduff’s 1:1 happens soon after the party scene (and having missed it the previous night), I decided the first loop before the crowds got in might be a good time to at least ‘try’ for it. As it happens, there was only one other audience member who followed her, so I didn’t feel too guilty about accepting her hand when she offered. I was ushered into a room little bigger than a cupboard for more ritual and superstition – in a soothing voice, she told me a story “when you were a little girl, I used to give you a dab of salt behind the ear to keep you safe…”. So with salt behind my ear and a folded paper pocket filled with more salt, I was sent on my way.

I eventually found my way back to the banquet scene (which also preceeds the finale) – with a long table, it struck me how much it resembles a grotesque version of the painting ‘The Last Supper’ – more religious imagery that I hadn’t noticed before. From here I was able to pick up Banquo for a complete loop. As part of the reset, he helped to move the Christmas trees around the edge of the room are shuffled back into position to create a forest – suddenly I spotted the correlation with Birnam Wood being on the move.

There are many wonderful dances in Banquo’s sequence, but one of my favourites has to be in the hotel cloakroom with Macbeth as they clamber around the rails.  Some things seem to require an Olympian level of fitness (which I really don’t have), but after the party scene I somehow summoned the energy to race up 5 flights of stairs to keep up with Banquo.  I don’t know who was more impressed, me or him.  It didn’t take long before we’re back downstairs again to witness the aftermath of Duncan’s murder. I was lucky enough to be selected for his 1:1, which is where you get a little more of the Shakespeare text (given that much of the main action has no speaking).  “we have scorched the snake, not killed it….” and you start to sense his unease of things to come.  Eventually we ended up back upstairs (again!) in a makeshift speakeasy for a tense card game between Banquo, Malcolm and Macduff – there seems to be an endless stream of King of Diamonds cards in the pack, each of which is nailed to the wall – seemingly the king that they just can’t get rid of.

Visit 4
A final visit – and in some ways not my finest, as I found myself trying to pack too much in.  A slightly disjointed night of trying to second guess things and inevitably getting it wrong.  There is only so much of an agenda you can take in with you.  But I managed to follow Malcolm for what equated to one complete loop – just split down the middle when I lost him.  He also doubles as a detective-like character in Gallow Green, but when Macduff visits his office, they open a drawer filled with trees and move them around – another reference to Birnam wood.  I was also selected for his 1:1 (slightly disgusting – he spat a soggy feather into my hand).  But I managed to lose him as he ran out of his office, but having found Lady Macbeth, I followed her instead.

There is a real sense of her frustrations with her husband and some truly haunting moments when she goes up to the hospital ward on the 5th floor for a bath.  At every turn she seems to be trying to maintain face whilst completely losing it in private.  This allowed me to fill in the gaps which I’d missed while following Macbeth before heading back to find Malcolm at the point where I’d lost him.  He hadn’t gone far.  Eventually I caught him and Macduff as they raced into a small room for one of the most terrifying bits of choreography.  With room for about 6 audience, the interrogation room has a chair and a ceiling lamp on a long cord – which they promtly began to swing back and forth, constantly moving around and dodging the lamp.  Only it was swinging quite close to my face which was a little unnerving.  But an incredible feat in a confined space.

I’d hoped to follow a bit of Macduff for the final loop – so to spare myself those 5 flights of stairs at speed, I left the party scene a minute early (a wrench, even having watched it 10 times) and waited on the 4th floor for him to follow Banquo through the door.  Banquo arrived, but no Macduff.  Presumably one of the 3rd loop adaptations to get everyone to the finale at the same time!  With nothing for it, I found myself wandering around Gallow Green hunting for something I hadn’t seen.  But rather than ‘waste’ time running around the building, I found myself drawn to Agnes – the young woman in love with Malcolm.  Sleep No More also has Daphne du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’ as a secondary storyline and Agnes is borrowed from this.

I found her in a small shop cutting a length of red cotton thread, tying it onto a locket and then snipping a few lines out of a book and folding it up to put in the locket.  For a final loop it seemed strange that she only had about 6 of us with her – there seemed to be a trend across my 4 visits of some characters being absolutely mobbed while others had a relatively small audience.  But before I knew what was going on, she had locked me with a stare, taken my hand and led me into a small living room and locked the door behind us.  (I do like a 1:1, but I often feel that they bear more weight when you have them in the context of a loop).  But she shut the pair of us in a wardrobe and whispered into my ear the opening paragraph of ‘Rebecca’ – ” Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again…..”.  She placed the locket around my neck and told me it would keep me safe.  She then climbed out, leaving me to exit through a Narnia-like door into the back of the wardrobe.

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So all in all – a good trip.  Curiosity well and truly satisfied in 4 visits (perhaps a 5th would’ve been nice – although I could probably have said the same about a 6th and 7th).  It’s amazing how much you can see if you put your mind to it, do a bit of careful spoiler-free reading and have the discipline to walk away from scenes you’ve already seen.  Would I go back?  If someone can find me the money for flights, hotel and tickets – yes I would!  But for now, I’ll stick to the Punchdrunk shows that don’t require the use of my passport.

Macbeth – Bridewell Theatre

“Can amateurs really do Shakespeare as well as professionals?  Is it going to be any good? ”  These two questions were niggling in the back of my mind as I sat down in the intimate Bridewell Theatre for a steampunk themed Macbeth.  A friend was stage-managing and the photos looked awesome, so I had high hopes.  Perhaps this time to understand it (my last dalliance and with The Scottish Play was at the Globe, everyone bar Lady M were wearing tuxedos and I couldn’t even tell which one was Macbeth, let alone any others).

The steampunk military and mechanical styling with dramatic lighting work well as as a setting – the attention to detail is pretty impressive given that they don’t have a megabucks West End budget. But this is a show with both style AND substance. Director Chloe Faine (having played Lady Macbeth herself) has chosen a strong and capable cast – it is clear that she has a good grasp of the play and how to best present this to modern ears.

Sarah Peachey and Daniel Bogod

Macbeth (Daniel Bogod) is suitably gutless; while he has some glimmer of ambition to be king, he doesn’t really have the drive to go through with the murder, nor is he that comfortable even when he seems to have got away with it.  With every subsequent murder, he becomes ever more desperate to hold onto his crown, to fulfil the witches’ prophecy.  His cause isn’t helped by his malevolent wife, Lady Macbeth (Sarah Peachey) who switches between sultry and scheming with great ease, trying every possible method to get her husband to grow a pair.  She holds great command of the stage and her soliloquies show her as a single-minded woman, hell-bent on being queen at any cost.

The gruesome task is made no easier by the fact that he has to kill Duncan (Will Harrison-Wallace) who makes for a very engaging, warm-hearted king.  Duncan’s son, Malcolm (Douglas Baker) has a cherubic face and plays the part with great naivety, still young enough to want to stick to his ideals, not yet corrupted by the machinations of politics.

It is of course Hecate and the weird sisters (Robert J Stanex, Sarah Beebe, Sarah Heenan and James Bretherton) who play a pivotal role, indicating to Macbeth his possible options – the simple act of sliding on and off their single spiked welding goggle indicates to the audience when they are invoking their magic and when they are blending into the crowd. Their only agenda seems to be to wreak havoc and mischief in the mortal world and their presence is deliciously unnerving.

Robert J Stanex, James Bretherton, Daniel Bogod, Sarah Heenan and Sarah Beebe

Banquo (Christopher Warren) makes a gentle giant of his character – tame, without being a pushover. His murder simply fuels Macbeth’s unease with what he has started. Macduff (Stuart McMillan – originally from Glasgow) laces his lines with rich Highland tones and there is a great contrast between his initial calmness and his descent into furious rage at the murder of his wife, Lady Macduff (Fran Rafferty) who makes a great job of a very small part.  This production doesn’t pull its punches on the gore; the gutteral groans as she is mercilessly butchered by the witches genuinely turned my stomach.

The sword fighting towards the end did seem a little careful at times, but once the foils were knocked from their hands, the violence of bare-hands-combat is tangible, with the two men stamping on feet and booting each other in the ribs.  This is a very accessible production of the play, delivered with great understanding – the haunting doom-laden steampunk styling is a nice touch, but this still deserves to be seen in its own right.  I will be keeping an eye on Sedos (they are the resident theatre company at the Bridewell) – their upcoming 2014 season appeals to me.

Macbeth is on at the Bridewell Theatre, Bride Lane, London, EC4Y 8EQ until Saturday 2nd November including a Saturday matinee at 2.30pm.  More information and tickets available from http://www.sedos.co.uk