Shakespeare On Screen: My Week With The Bard

I really try my best to avoid Shakespeare. Like the Beatles, it’s all so ingrained in our (western) culture that when you hear it you tend to switch off. But unlike the Fab Four you have to try hard to understand what’s going on. And if theatre really isn’t your thing then who has the time to revise the York notes before going to see a production? Well, this week I fell prey to this and agreed to go to a live screening of Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’ at the Cameo Cinema here in Edinburgh. This is the one with Christopher Ecclestone/Niamh Cusack in the lead roles, and directed by Polly Findlay for the RSC in Stratford, where it’s currently running.

It was a modern production with no real set, Macbeth in full battle gear, an ethnically diverse cast, text fragments flashed up above the stage, and an annoying digital clock.

Screen shot 2018-04-14 at 23.55.22

The clock counted down the 2hrs (in real time) from Macbeth’s coronation until the final second before being killed by MacDuff. A distraction that we could have done without. Like a car journey with children, I kept checking the time only to find that it was only 2 minutes later than the last time I checked. Added to this was the fact that the countdown began well into the first half. My immediate reaction was: “What? Two more hours of this?” It also made a mockery of the ‘LATER’ that flashed up between the scenes.

The production was plain dull, with quirks of design and casting that had no central through-line to them. Just ideas, and not very good ones. For example, the witches were three young girls in onesies, each holding a doll/baby. Now sometimes the sound of children is creepy as in horror flicks, but this sounded like… well, 9 year olds reciting Shakespeare.

Ecclestone can be good on occasion, but he is a one dimensional actor in truth. Niamh Cusack was hysterical throughout, and the rest of the cast medicore. But, I enjoyed it. Oddly. Despite myself. So much so that when I got home I saw that Hamlet was on the iPlayer and promised myself that I would watch it over the next few days. And I’m glad I did. I enjoyed everything about this production except one thing: Hamlet, as played by Andrew Scott. He is DREADFUL. Now this was a problem as Hamlet is on stage quite a bit in this play 😉

The rest of the company are terrific. They speak their lines like modern dialogue which is really very impressive. The design is, again, modern, as if it’s set in a slick, 5-star hotel, with lights, music and sound all good. Then on comes Scott. Now I’ve worked quite a bit in theatre and have a good sense for when someone is out of their depth, and Andrew Scott is in the deep end, flailing about, and sinking fast. Just watch this clip below and tell me he knows what he’s doing:

I feel embarassed for him just watching it.

Now, I realise this show has got some rave reviews and I think they are quite well deserved… for the rest of the cast and the impressive direction. But there have also been some stinkers too, mainly about the central performance. It’s a shame because I liked Scott in Sherlock. But here, he is a wildly self-conscious actor, all weird gurning and twitchy-finger acting. I lost count of the times he put his hand to his brow like he had a sinus problem.

I started to flick through his scenes, which made it a somewhat pointless task. I paused every now again to give him another chance, but no, he was still awful. I was gutted because I really enjoyed the other actors: Juliet Stevenson as Gertrude, Angus Wright as Claudius, Peter Wight as Polonius… all brilliant.

After this disappointment, I needed to re-boot my faith in WS, so I watched the mockumentary ‘Cunk On Shakespeare’, in which the intrepid Philomena Cunk takes on old Will.i.am…

It did the trick.

Here are two of my favourite scenes:

Genius. And despite the p*ss taking was actually quite informative and kept my hopes up that one day, when I’m older, I might come to appreciate what the ‘King of the Bards’ has to offer.

Until then…

JKI

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