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A CurtainUp London Review
For maybe the first quarter of an hour Dillane talks with his eyes shut. Concentrating hard he stands leaning against the back drop, with knees bent and hands on his thighs while the evocative, deep registers of the bassoon herald the entrance of Macbeth. It is as if Macbeth is dreaming these events. With the line, "So foul and fair a day I have not seen" he starts, and opens his eyes for the first time.
I knew Dillane would be exciting; what I didn't expect was the unselfconscious physicality of his performance. Each character shift calls for a switch of voice or timbre and a delineation of body language. I dreaded the entrance of Lady Macbeth. Would he fall into the Steven Berkoff trap of high camp villainess? I should have had faith. Dillane's woman was subtle, a little gentle voice which suddenly segues into French but this Lady Macbeth's femininity is as toughly manipulative as any woman I have seen in the role. She uses her sex to incite her lord.
Lighting is very important here for changes of mood. In the murder scenes, huge, macabre shadows are cast on the backdrop, a visual allusion to the enormity of the sinful deed. When the scene switches to the "comic" porter, bright lights startle us as Dillane shouts "Knock Knock Knock!" with a vulgar pelvic thrust on each knock. The music is subtle and atmospheric without being intrusive although I might have preferred not to have the visual distraction of the musicians onstage but just to have heard them.
Clever direction keeps this production from being static without it feeling over elaborately staged. There is such variety to Dillane's characters that we are held. In the banquetting scene, Macbeth says by way of explanation to the other diners, "I have a strange infirmity to those that know me" after leaping into the second row of the stalls. The limits of this production are not even bounded by the stage. He then continues to pace in the aisle between the front of the stage and the audience.
As the play progresses and as Macbeth's composure disintegrates, his body becomes blackened by the sand; first his feet disappear as if socked in black, then his hands and finally as he wipes sand in his hair, his face is smeared charcoal. I did wonder how he would play the "Out, damned spot" scene with these totally blackened hands, but he wipes his palms in time for Lady Macbeth to say, "Tous les parfums d'Arabie ne . . . . cette petite main" (I lost the French verb but you will know the quote). For the final battle he puts on his sweat-soaked, blood red shirt and turns his jacket back to front as if wearing armour. Finally as Macbeth's disembodied head is shown, a clever placing of one hand grasping his hair and the line of the jacket concealing his body, convinces that this is the trophy of battle.
In the audience I saw Mark Rylance who this year tackled The Tempest with a cast of three for his final performance at Shakespeare's Globe and I wonder whether he was wishing he had staged that late Shakespeare play with only one actor?
When we think about those actors who Bottom-like want to play all the parts " Let me play Thisby", " Let me play the lion", Stephen Dillane is not one of them. He would not push himself celebrity-like to the front of the line. I remember seeing him one night, on his way down The Cut, head down, walking fast towards the tube, lest anyone recognise him after playing Vanya at the Young Vic. But when we think of the roles he has played, each one reveals his versatility and for each part he takes on, he seems to have reinvented himself and become that character. How astute of Travis Preston to have chosen Dillane to collaborate with. There are performances already scheduled in France at three venues in 2006 but it would be a hand wringing shame if this Macbeth does not resurface in the English speaking world.
Editor's Note: New York readers will want to keep an eye out for our review of a new production from Classic Stage starring Michael Cumpsty (see our Off-Broadway Listings.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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