Birnam Wood comes to St Andrews Castle

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Macbeth. Directed by Siobhán Cannon-Brownlie

For this literature enthusiast, I must confess that something about seeing ‘The Scottish Play’ in the Scottish patron saint’s Castle, in the patron saint’s town (which is, of course, actually in Scotland) greatly appealed to me.

St Andrews castle, as many of you will undoubtedly know, is not your average theatre. Audience members gathered themselves together in the middle greenery inside the castle, laying down picnic cloths and curling up in coats, scarves and blankets. We were welcomed in by the sounds of bag pipers, encouraging a great atmosphere right from the get-go. An 8PM start meant that the sun was just beginning to set when we heard the cries of the witches gathered around the well that had been put effectively to use as their cauldron.

The three weird sisters began the tale strongly, and the wealth of talent and energy visible in these first appearing characters was a constant throughout the play. It is worth noting that the possible slight downfalls of this unorthodox staging, such as the chill of the night air or the lack of microphones, did not in any way hinder the actors from giving a great performance. They projected their voices well across the castle grounds, and remained still and seemingly unaffected by the cold.

Forsyth’s development of Macbeth through his stages of uncertainty, insanity, and increasing hubris was right on target and, as ever, the character of Lady Macbeth was a delight to watch. Howitt shone spectacularly in her role and, with a pale face and painted blood-red lips, looked that kind of beautiful evil that only such a character as Lady Macbeth could appear. The lighting was exploited in a wonderful way to give great lurking shadows to those characters that stood just before it.

In a later part of the play, Macbeth’s hallucination in the form of Moore’s Banquo proved to be one of the most terrifying and memorable scenes. The great direction and performance of the actors had the audience at first laughing at Lady Macbeth’s excuses for her husband, then at once sitting in stunned silence at Banquo’s animated corpse.

The supporting characters, as well as the main, shaped the play into a believable performance, and in particular I – and safe to say, the whole audience – enjoyed Robertson’s hilarious portrayal of the Porter. She continued on with her limped walk as she went off stage (so to speak), and just before she got out of eyesight, took a long drink from her hipflask. It was this kind of commitment to character that made the Mermaids’ Macbeth an enjoyable performance to watch.

The tragedy unfolded as the sky grew darker and cloudier into the night. We watched Lady Macbeth grow insane, and Macbeth die his tragic death, bringing a whole new realistic element to the concept of pathetic fallacy. Having such a performance, in such a setting as this, is an opportunity unique to being a resident of St Andrews and, as such, it is certainly not one to be missed.

 

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