Review – The Scottish Play, National Theatre

Wednesday 28 February 2018

Phil’s only seen seen The Scottish Play once before. And that was some 30 years ago.

To put that into some kind of a context his tally of other shows runs roughly thus: 42nd Street (5 times), Into the Woods (5), La Cage Aux Folles (5), Follies (8), and Sweeney Todd (8). Shows where his priorities lie.

Of course there’s not really much room for musical numbers in this Shakespeare although the background music by Orlando Gough is pretty darn good. This rather grim tale of seething political and royal ambition sees The Thane of Glamis/Thane of Cawdor/wannabe king (Rory Kinnear) egged on by his pushy Lady (Anne-Marie Duff), stabbing and decapitating his way to the top. Some will no doubt draw parallels with the present age. But at least these politics are more subtly rendered than in David Hare’s gloriously laugh out loud, heavy-handed lecturing in TV’s Collateral.

Sadly not many laughs here. None at all to be exact*. Our preview performance was decidedly gloomy stuff indeed. So Rufus Norris has zhooshed things up by going a bit Big Top (or is that Big Mac?) with a touch of Cirque du Soleil, turning many of the cast into acrobatic pole dancers. Of sorts. The witches climb up and down tall unstable-looking, mop-like poles with regular and apparent ease. Others in the cast are inspired to follow. How thrilling to see a “Pole Captain” (Hauk Pattison) listed in the credits.

Mr Kinnear’s M starts at a such a frenzied state of foot-tapping agitation there’s not really much room for his descent into paranoia. His Lady is a bit of a strange one. You should see the untidy state of their living quarters. It’s a wonder they can find anything and little wonder they dress so badly. Somehow they find contemporary (of course it is) and grungy in their “wardrobe” of piled-up plastic baskets. Lady M might consider less plotting and keep a steadier eye on her housekeeping.

It’s all so agitated one wonders if it’s not just the supernumeraries – who wander around sucking on what look like giant bongs – who are high. One of the visits to the witches is depicted by a procession of people with bad wigs and creepy dolls’ faces on the backs of their heads. Very Bride of Chucky. Very creepy. Is it giving anything away to say that that pretty much everone dies? Banquo (Kevin Harvey) comes back as a ghost (again and again) and lurches around like a zombie from Shaun of the Dead.

There’s a peculiar yet strangely compelling scene after the interval concerning the other Duffs of the evening Lady Macduff (Amaka Okafor) and her son who is rather irritatingly played by a woman. It’s the National so of course there’s some conspicuous gender-blindness but these Duffs seem to serve little purpose other than to up the body count.

The vast spaces of the Olivier’s stage are utilised most effectively especially with a huge drawbridge-that-doesn’t-draw styled curved ramp. But during the ploddier bits of Mr Shakespeare’s text Phil was able to look at all the distressed poltythene sheeting of Rae Smith’s set (which is atmospherically enhanced by James Francombe’s lights) and wonder about the show’s carbon footprint. It’s the National so we assume it’ll be greener than an Ekoplaza supermarket aisle. There’s a lot of scene-setting grime and naturally Phil doesn’t mean Stormzy as he’d never heard of him until the Brit Awards last week.

* SPOILER ALERT Ok so there was one laugh. But only because Helen, Phil’s companion for the evening, got the giggles during Kinnear’s noisily gory, on stage decapitation at the end. His head, like the one hacked off at the beginning, ends up in a plastic bag (that’s 10p of the budget gone then). Puts a new twist on “Bag for Life”.

Rating

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3 Responses to “Review – The Scottish Play, National Theatre”

  1. Stormzy or one temporarily purporting to be him for purposes of levity Says:

    That’s funny, I have long been aware of the brilliant Phil as a Whingers fan – you da OG of gangsta theatre bitches, mon!

  2. Chris Voisey Says:

    I found it a depressiing evening on so many counts… Rory Kinnear and his feeble attempt to channel Danny Dyer and Anne-Marie Duff having to wander around in that SHITEOUS sequined pink affair (doesn’t she have an agent??)… Who knew that Rufus Norris would rival the ghastly Emma Rice in so misjudging Shakespeare.

    I liked that we both got the SHAUN OF THE DEAD vibe off of lurching Banquo!


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