There is a special place in my heart for the Porter in Shakespeare’s Macbeth: it was the last part I played before finally facing the fact that the stage could do very well without me: my acting career was never going to surpass a 1983 school assembly ‘triumph’ as the eponymous hero of Toad of Toad Hall…
There is also a special place for the Porter in Michael Boyd’s production of Macbeth, now playing in repertory at the recently restored Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-on-Avon. The problem with the Porter is that only half his speech (the bit about drink provoking desire but taking away performance) is funny: the other half consists of some entirely incomprehensible 400-year-old social commentary. Boyd gets round this by giving actor Jamie Beamish a suitable sight gag that gets a good laugh and, in eliding the single-scene devil porter with the character of Seyton, Boyd adds a chilling aftermath to the play’s several death scenes that I will not spoil by explaining here.
Many other minor characters have had their lines reassigned and the result is an uncluttered stage with sharp focus on the shifting allegiances and mutual mistrust between the Thanes. The roles of Ross and Malcolm, played by Scott Handy and Howard Charles respectively, have been beefed up and both actors make the most of the opportunities on offer. The most surprising change, and one that may perturb purists, is the casting of children as the witches: the same children are later slaughtered in Macduff’s castle in by far the play’s most brutal scene.
Jonathan Slinger and Aislin McGuckin put in solid performances as the two leads lost in a supernatural game that exploits their human failings only to leave them to their terrible fates, while Steve Toussaint brings a brooding intensity to a Banquo who reappears on stage post mortem rather more often than is usual.
Full use is made of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre’s thrust configuration and height: action takes place in the aisles, and entrances are often made from above on Tom Piper’s brooding set.
It may not be Toad of Toad Hall but that’s no reason not to see this pacey and sinister Macbeth.