Monday, May 16, 2011

Macbeth (Classic Radio Theatre).

How do you create a sense of place in Shakespearean audio productions? A recent Radio 3 production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona became The Two Gentlemen of Valasna and was recorded on location in Maharashtra, with an all-Indian cast, the sounds of the landscape gifting much colonial atmosphere even if something of the story was lost in the abbreviated text. Studio bound, director Richard Eyre’s approach in this millennial recording of Macbeth (also available with the title actors on the cover) is to thread a sound of bitter wind across much of the duration and allow every breath of his actors to assault the microphones punctuating each line and clause, underscoring the emotional resonance of each comma or semi-colon.

His other trump card is to deliver the play in strong Edinburgh accents drawing the audience right back to the turn of the previous millennium and the bloody time of the original monarch, and though Shakespeare has blurred the history (historical Duncan was a much younger man and killed in battle against Macbeth’s forces rather than in his bed chamber), this production does much to underscore the plausibility of his alternative account. Eyre increases the brutality by emphasising the hard consonants in “murder” reversing the trend in some texts (notably the Arden Second Series) to soften the central sound to "murther".

In cutting the horrible deeds of the witches in act one, scene three and diving straight into their meeting with Macbeth, Eyre gives the impression that this will be a less supernatural reading. But the spot music is filled with deathly chords and when Ken Stott’s Macbeth returns to the terrible women who prophesise his doom, the soundtrack fractures and we absolutely understand the mental drift the new king undergoes. Dual casting also offers the possibility that the witches are inhabiting the action themselves, Phyllis Logan and Tracy Wiles playing Ladies Macbeth and Macduff respectively as well as gruffing up their voices to become these weird sisters.

Stott seems initially uncertain in the role, his breaths falling in the wrong places in the verse, apparently making a meal of the iambic pentameter. But beyond the bloody execution, counter to most interpretations, his Macbeth gains an initial startling sense of purpose, his uncertainty only properly returning beyond the death of his wife, his broken sense of the verse returns making his initial hesitancy a feature rather than a failure. Like Ophelia, Lady M is one of Shakespeare’s few roles that never quite works on audio; we need to see her hypnotic mental dance with her husband, the persuasive moment when she fixes him in the eye and all is lost. But Logan cheekily takes advantage of the character's most erotic moment when she calls upon the spirits to embolden her.

Graham Crowdon makes a brief but touching appearance as the Old Man, Rosse’s father though in truth few of the supporting cast really make much of a particular impression, but again that’s as a result of Eyre’s presumed requirement for crisp, clean, lucid diction and interpreting in audio one of Shakespeare’s shortest tragedies in which plot and structure overwhelm character beyond the title role. Nevertheless Tracy Wiles impresses as Lady Macduff, her guttural deathly screams upon the murder of her and her family piercing the ears and Tom Mannion’s Macduff’s reaction on hearing the news of same is one of the production’s highlights.

Macbeth (Classic Radio Theatre) is published by AudioGo. RRP: £13.25 ISBN: 978-1408469781. Review copy supplied.

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