I had never seen a Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru production – and what a production to start with!
I was watching the Theatr Gen Byw live streaming of the production set in Caerphilly Castle to the cinema screen at Theatr Clwyd, Mold. While I imagine being at one remove from the action is not as dramatic as being among the audience in the castle setting, it did nothing to dampen my enjoyment of the authentic atmosphere created by such a backdrop.
Deft camerawork, lighting and sound ensured we had the best view of all actors at all times and heard each word perfectly. The castle setting, rich costumes and powerful music made it easy to transport ourselves to Inverness Castle all those centuries ago.
Macbeth is my personal favourite of Shakespeare’s tragedies, and to my mind sees one of the most successful uses of the dramatic technique of hamartia. Such a heroic, charismatic, handsome and loving eponymous lead brought down spectacularly by succumbing to his fatal flaw, ambition.
The story appeals for its action, its universal themes of love, greed, death and grief and the secret knowledge within us that we too could embark on such a devastating path just by letting our fatal flaw – be it pride, malice or jealousy – become a louder voice than our conscience. It is a story that has in some way inspired a thousand others, from The Godfather to The House of Cards.
What a mammoth task therefore for head of production Arwel Gruffydd to take on, and as he said in the preceding video documentary, one that once undertaken had to be done right. He needn’t have worried as he has achieved his aims with aplomb.
The late Gwyn Thomas’s translation is so very skilful. Each cleverly crafted line brings to mind its English counterpart, yet seems more natural and easier to comprehend while losing none of the poetry of the metre or power of the imagery. Macbeth has so many memorable lines that I can still reel off now despite studying the text 22 years ago.
I would be interested to know whether this drama will be studied by Welsh medium students in our schools.
Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are a dynamic couple, a team, and actors Richard Lynch and Ffion Dafis were excellent in their complementary roles. Where he is strong, she is his equal, where he is hesitant she is steely, where he wavers she is practical.
Introduced as a brave soldier, we have to like Macbeth to later feel the tragedy of his downfall, and Lynch ensures we do. As his character grows in status so his performance grows stronger and stronger until he totally commands the stage, and his quieter soliloquies show a depth of feeling that ensure we still have some sympathy for him despite the depth of the horrors he commits.
Dafis is wonderful, with her North-Walian delivery perfectly suiting the language of the script. Her physical performance and delivery is captivating throughout, culminating in the ‘out, damned spot’ speech hauntingly delivered in her nightdress, a scene showing even Lady Macbeth is not immune to guilt as her mind becomes so ravaged by it that she dies ‘by self and violent hands’.
The supporting cast gives solid performances. I thought Owain Gwynn as Macduff is not quite sufficiently moved by the news of the death of his family, though he shines in the battle scenes, and I found Tomos Wyn’s Malcolm a little bland.
The stage combat is impressive and credible, heightening the drama more and more until Macbeth goes out fighting, full of sound and fury.
This is without doubt the best production of Macbeth I have seen in any language and I hope it will be seen and enjoyed increasingly widely.