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Macbeth (Glasgow)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
It has become rather a familiar sight in the ever-reddening seas of contemporary politics. The people revolt, as they have always done, against one man's cruelties and oust him from the sadistic sovereignty which he bears like a barren sceptre. The dethroned tyrant, prised from his bloody palaces and the formal wears which betray his bloody deeds, is secreted to a medical facility for his own safety, as well as that of the society which he has stomped upon. His mouth is gently opened by a professional in white, his skull unopened by the lynch mobs that await him, and he is swabbed for evidence and profiling. His wedding ring is removed. He is medicated and settled for the night. But this is just the beginning.

It is in this unknown aftermath of a disaster that Black Watch director John Tiffany and Andrew Goldberg set their triumphant one-man staging of one of William Shakespeare's most poetically satisfying and dramatically fired works. "A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury", Tiffany and Goldberg suffuse the paranoia and hysteria of the tragic king's battle against his subjects and himself with the schizophrenic, though perfectly cognoscente, cries of a solitary patient confined in a psychiatric ward. A paper bag of evidence lies at the foot of his cot; its forensic analysis is the two hour's transit of our stage.

From Macheath in The Threepenny Opera to Macbeth at the battlements of Dunsinane, Alan Cumming has undoubtedly become one of Scotland's finest exports. The Tony Award Winning actor has returned to the city and to the play which gave him his stage debut, performing practically all of the play's parts in what will surely be remembered as one of the National Theatre of Scotland's most thrilling and dynamic performances.

There is something of witchcraft in the way that the piece is performed. Macbeth, transfixed by the prophecies with which the witches wander his mind, transforms into Banquo by the toss of an apple, and then into King Duncan by the twist of his voice. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth slowly mould into one being, unsexed and ever-aligned and allied in their guilt and cruelties. The transitions are seamless and the effect massive. Here, we have a tangible yet metaphysical
exploration of character across characters, which enriches as it enthralls.

But it is not just this constant shape-shifting that makes the performance a great one. Here, Cumming finds the fears and frustrations of both the Shakespearean character and of those who fight to retain a sense of self, however fragmented and fractious, against mental illness, trapped within Merle Hansel's exquisite yet eerie sanatorium. His command of the play's language and excavations of its deeper meanings are masterful. The energy of his performances is at times unbearably involving and deeply moving.

The issues which have been hinted at by critics in earlier reviews have all but disappeared. The pairing of Tiffany and Cumming has become a work of psychological alchemy. All hail Alan Cumming that shalt be King of the National Theatre of Scotland hereafter.


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