Sunday, November 18, 2007

Shakespeare? Make it so.

One of the best things about London is the amazing live theatre, rivaled only by New York to my knowledge (except they have "theater" not "theatre"). At any given time you can find several plays in London with well known stage and film actors, and countless smaller productions and large budget musicals. For example, right now there is a production of King Lear starring Sir Ian McKellan (sold out, alas), Glengarry Glen Ross starring Jonathan Pryce (perhaps best known in the US for Infiniti commercials, but also starred in Brazil), and Swimming With Sharks starring Christian Slater (perhaps best known for sounding exactly like Jack Nicholson, but also starred in Gleaming the Cube).

On Saturday, Maggie and I went to see a new production of MacBeth starring Patrick Stewart at the Gielgud Theatre in the West End. We saw it advertised a while back and bought tickets right away before it sold out, and we have been anxiously awaiting the show for weeks. Of course Patrick Stewart has had a long distinguished career (including many years with the Royal Shakespeare Company, the X-Men movies, and one of the funniest cameos ever on Extras), but we kept saying "Hey, we're going to see Captain Picard live!" He probably gets tired of people only associating him with Star Trek, but it is better than people only remembering him for his performance in Conspiracy Theory with Mel Gibson.

"Give me tea, Earl Grey, hot, or I'll pump you full of lead, Banquo!"

This show has gotten nearly unanimously rave reviews from the critics, and it more than lived up to the hype. We've both seen many plays and both love Shakespeare, but we both agree that we've never seen anything remotely as entertaining, professional, and exhilarating as this production. At first we were disappointed that the play had to be MacBeth - after all, Patrick Stewart had played Prospero in The Tempest earlier in the year, and we both thought of MacBeth as a bit of a overwrought blood-bath, even by Shakespeare's standards. However, this production staged MacBeth in an incredibly creative way that made the story relevant to current world affairs and honestly frightening.


The set was strongly reminiscent of the hospital wing of Alcatraz prison - bleak, institutional, and giving off some serious Abu Ghraib bad vibes. Because of the overtones of paranoia, espionage, treason, and torture in the text of MacBeth (not light stuff, admittedly), and following the stark prison theme of the set, the characters were dressed in early 20th century fascist-style military uniforms. The witches, envisioned by Shakespeare as old hags with beards (weird perhaps, but not especially scary), were transformed into spooky torturous nurses. I didn't know plays could actually do this, but the whole thing was SCARY. The sound, music, and visual effects were equally amazing and were used very well to keep the audience engaged and make a 400 year old play seem fresh. I'm often suspicious of creative re-workings of classic plays (e.g., Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet), but somehow this worked amazingly well. Patrick Stewart was excellent and humble (he was listed alphabetically on the program and poster, and he didn't do a separate encore), and the rest of the cast was also very good.

It is really wonderful to be able to see real actors doing live theatre. While we enjoyed Huey Lewis in Chicago back in San Francisco, somehow it wasn't quite the same.


Anonymous said...

Hey, no knocking Huey Lewis - he rocked in Chicago. Yes, I really am that cheezy...

hildegard von bingen said...

Is this the version where Patrick Stewart uses his mind to makes women's clothing just fall off?

hildegard von bingen said...

so, are you guys celebrating Thanksgiving? Too 'Merican for ya now?

Gobble gobble!