Rufus Sewell takes on Macbeth

From The Sunday Telegraph (that other newspaper):

Sewell describes the play as "the portrait of a marriage in self-destruct. The play will be revealed - we hope - by our showing two people throwing something precious away." The "collapse" of both main characters is, he says, "scientifically interesting", and Lady Macbeth's disintegration is "well observed, down to the wringing of hands. At the end, Macbeth goes out fighting, able to comment on his own behaviour, no longer scared." As Sewell puts it, less than lyrically, when discussing Tom Stoppard's Arcadia, in which he played the glamorous tutor Septimus Hodge: "Good writing does not chip off the complicated knobs on a person." And Macbeth is complicated: "Shakespeare never makes a monster."


That Irate Scottish Gentleman
9 March 1999
The Daily Telegiraffe

The British Press are not known for gushing reviews, and Macbeth, so far, has been no exception in that regard. The Daily Telegiraffe asks theatregoer Toni Slaven for her thoughts on the production, which is just barely out of previews.

Toni: The set was minimalist - a large red square painted centre stage and surrounded entirely by black. At the back of the stage was an entrance of double door width. Sometimes this was curtained, sometimes it was replaced by a lowerable drawbridge and finally, what was the arch of the curtained doorway was pushed forward to create a hallway in which the anxious Macbeth paces before battle.

This doorway was also used for what I thought was one of the cleverest scenes of the play. During Macbeths final consultation with the witches, the curtain was replaced with glass behind which were mirrors (I have to say I'm only guessing here!). With Macbeth and the witches around the cauldron in the middle of the stage, their incantation begins and you see them clearly reflected in the 'glass' at the back of the stage. As they make their prophecies, their reflections fade to be replaced by 'visions'. You actually see the long line of Banquo's issue!! As the consultation ends, the glass darkens again and all disappear.

DT: Was it a minimalist set which worked, or one which just looked "on the cheap"?

Toni: Afraid it did look just a little "on the cheap." I reckon most of their scenery budget must have gone on the mirror/glass special effect thing!

DT: Were scenes placed securely inside and out--or did you have to figure out the staging?

Toni: You could tell when the scene had changed. Simply lowering a smoking censer suggested a meeting in a church. Projecting tree's onto the backcloth and having Macduff stand on top of the the "hallway" suggested a scene outside on wooded hills. Though I don't know that those who are less familiar with the play always got what they were trying to suggest, however.

DT: Was the drawbridge creaky?

Toni: Thankfully not! I once saw a performance of Romeo and Juliet where poor Juliet nearly got catapulted off the balcony, so juddery was said item!

DT: The witches were singled out as being rather unformidable--true?

Toni: Yes, it's true - I've seen scarier sofas!

The costumes were a strange mixture, of . . . I can't say quite what period. The men were wearing dark kilts over trousers and Lady M, for the main, wore a dress that showed so much cleavage I'm surprised anyone could look her in the eye!

Rufus Sewell was looking as dark and handsome as one would expect (got lots of use out of my opera glasses!). I was surprised by both his physical sturdiness and his incredibly husky voice. My ticketmate rather naughtily called him the thespian Rod Stewart! Tsk!

While his acting was fine--

DT: Fine--that sound's like servicable--

Toni: I felt it lacked emotional variety. It was obvious he's a talented actor - it really was the lack of variety that was the problem. There were very few reflective notes, he just seemed angry and power-hungry all the time. I didn't get the feeling that he had ever felt any loyalty to, or real love for, Duncan; or that there was any doubt in his mind as to the course he should take after the first meeting with the witches. I heard the words, but didn't pick up the emotion I expected, and yes, he did shout rather a lot! I have read a review which said that you can see the potential when you hear his "tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" speech, and I think I agree. In that moment you felt Macbeths weariness and resignation. The acting magic worked - but it was all too brief.

But I was impressed with the Macbeth/Macduff sword fight at the end - two swords apiece and it looked scary and realistic stuff!

DT: Clanking? Huffing and puffing? --Was "Lay on, Macduff" delivered well?

Toni: Serious clanking and huffing/puffing! Certainly the fight and associated dialogue were one of the highlights of the production. You got a good feel for Macbeths' paranoia once he's king and, as I said before, the "and tomorrow" speech was excellent.

DT: Could you hear the lines clearly? Too little inflection throughout the play?

Toni: There was a little bit of mumbling, but on the whole I heard the words clearly.

DT: Is this a dagger?--Was it real? No moments of doubt in that speech?

Toni: Both the dagger and the ghost were imaginary. There was a little bit of doubt came across in that speech, but it was overwhelmed by all around it. It's like the anti-thesis of Ken's film version of "Hamlet"--with that there are dodgy bits, but the whole is so incredible that he gets away with it. With this Macbeth, there were successful moments, but the whole was lacking and that feeling of lack predominates.

As for the other actors - Lady Macbeth (Sally Dexter) and Macduff (Declan Conlon) were the ones that stood out. I didn't have any real problems with how the words were said (I'm not an "iambic fundamentalist" after all) but there were a few occasions on which they split lines in places which broke the flow, and lost the meaning of what was being said.

DT: Is Sally Dexter (Lady Macbeth) a very good actor?

Toni: I thought she was good but not outstanding. I must confess I thought the pneumatic boobs were a bit funny (as in humorous). I have this mental picture of her cleavage harassing poor Macbeth!

I actually read another review today, one which also felt the performance would grow over the course of the run. By the time it reaches you, it may garner raves!


As Fortinbras in Kenneth Branagh's HAMLET

As John Murdoch in "Dark City"

As Septimus Hodge in "Arcadia"

As Giles Winterbourne in "The Woodlanders"

As himself for The Tatler

For a review of Sir Kenneth Branagh's Macbeth, go here.

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