On Sunday, I had the privilege of attending The National Theatre of Scotland’s production of Macbeth, starring Alan Cumming. It was an incredibly powerful, poignant show–not only for its reimagining of the Bard’s play, but for its comments on the madness of grief. Alan Cumming tackles all of the roles but two–the porter and the doctor. He, as the patient, slips between characters mostly smoothly (it took a few moments to differentiate between characters at times).
The set design was incredible. As a former techie, sets are one of the first things I notice. Glasgow’s Tramway 1, where the show is being performed until 30 June, is a small, intimate venue. There is no curtain, and the audience is free to look at the set, that of a mental institution, in its cold, mint green splendour. There is a tub, several beds, and CCTV cameras, which are used to great effect, especially with the Weird Sisters.
The sound design is great. It is subtle, effective, and is not obvious, which is as it should be. It, like the lighting, highlights various points of the performance without being overbearing.
Now, to the performance.
One may initially think that Cumming is the titular Macbeth, but as the character is seen outside of his mad recitation of Macbeth, the audience realizes he is Macduff. With him, he carries a child’s woolen jumper. He takes it from the paper bag holding his personal effects; he looks at it sadly, with love; and then the Macduff murders occur. Whether or not this is what the directors intended, I’m not sure, but it’s what I got out of it. Through this staging, Macbeth became more than a tale of a power-mad couple who bring about their own demises through greed. It’s the story of a man undergoing deep grief, who loses more than the rest. Whilst Macbeth, Duncan and Banquo may lose their lives (and Macbeth his wife), it is Macduff who suffers worst of all. He loses his family, those who he cares for and loves best of all.
Macbeth runs until 30 June before it moves to the Lincoln Center in New York.