Review: Macbeth at Chester Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre
There is nothing in the night outside the theatre that speaks of the dark. Our early August evening is bright and full of good looking people. We’ve become accustomed to this magic in Chester, this lovely theatre in Grosvenor Park that grows like the summer itself.
The building of the wooden terraces and temporary theatre in the round evokes picnics and festivals, fair weather and holidays.
Macbeth is tragedy, full of darkness, and tells how the Scottish general, Macbeth receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become King of Scotland. Consumed by ambition he acts to make this true, murdering the king, taking the throne for himself. He is then forced to commit more and more murders, falling into arrogance, madness and death.
The opening genius of this production is the setting. Chester Performs excels at this, the physical theatre, the costuming; all the tactile component parts of the staging. The darkness of Macbeth’s night begins in battle. And what careful camouflage they wear; these soldiers are costumed and caught between the aeons. Green fatigues that might be inter-war, influenced by other times too. Already we’re beginning to see that this time is all times.
So much of Shakespeare is familiar, even if you last read or watched at school and maybe then it was reluctantly. A quick roll call of quotes, that have inspired other things, crept into our general turn of english phrase? Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow; full of sound and fury; something wicked this way comes, Double, double, toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble; what’s done, is done; Blood will have blood. It is very much part of our foundations.
The performance has so much cold and tragic ambition in Lady Macbeth, the status quo in a fondly played King and a strongly performed Macbeth falling to his inevitable end. There are so many stories within this whole, each brought to life once more.
But who owns a story? By the time of the first recorded performance of Macbeth Shakespeare was 42 and halfway through his playwriting career. My point is this: he knew he was successful. He’d also be aware that audiences and critics will all take something different from a show. In his imagination could he have seen you, reading this electronic review of mine, more than 400 years later? Still discussing how he shapes language? How his ideas are still relevant to this world, now?
With a capacity in the Open Air Theatre of 300 or so, you can guarantee that there were 300 or so different stories seen that night? Each person there mixed this story with their own, took something new from it. That’s the true enchantment of theatre, isn’t it?
There’s lots to recommend this particular production but a couple of images will stay with me for a long time. The first is pure drama. As Macbeth attempts to regale his court with a banquet; to celebrate his success; he is haunted by the friend he murdered; Banquo.
The ghost of Banquo occupies the empty seat at the table; a bloody and disturbing spectacle in itself. Macbeth begins to lose control, to rave at the presence of the spectre. From her cold heart Lady Macbeth regains mastery of the situation but only for a little time. From there Banquo advances, physically disjointed by death from reality, appalling and slack limbed, he crawls down the banqueting table. The dinner things are scattered and the remains of Macbeth’s composure is ripped away by the ghostly Banquo. It is a moment of perfect theatre.
The second image is an idea that finds it’s fulfilment and unfolding in the hands of Thomas Richardson as Macduff. Macduff is Macbeth’s ending; he is the man ‘not of woman born’; the only man in front of whom Macbeth will be vulnerable. The potential insolence of Macduff’s nobility of heart is swept away Thomas’ pure conviction in the role; utter believability.
For me this Macbeth was very much about entitlement; about the horror that is wrought when we act in unthinking expectation of something that is promised to us. Macbeth takes what he is promised by the witches and there is a bloody path to his crown. Macduff delivers the final blow, the last cost of the journey to the crown. And he does it very well.
There’s a welter of positive acclaim for Chester Performs and the Open Air Theatre and for good reason. There’s still limited availability for the performances of Macbeth and the other current productions of The Comedy of Error and The Secret Garden. Don’t do the last minute booking thing and let the experience slip pas you; swamp Chester Performs with a clamour for those last tickets.
The Grosvenor Open Air Theatre runs until 24th August. For tickets and for more information, visit www.grosvenorparkoepnairtheatre.co.uk or call 0845 2417868