To the Gate Notting Hill tonight for an NT Live encore screening of the Manchester International Festival Macbeth. I was away when this production with Kenneth Branagh and Alex Kingston was shown live in cinemas, and so I missed the discussion that it prompted then. As I’m coming to it late, perhaps it need not detain us long, but I do want to note the things about the cinema broadcast that I thought were good – and those that for me were not so good (primarily the theatre production itself). Before that, though, you might like to read press reviews by Michael Billington for the Guardian, Kate Bassett for the Independent and Dominic Cavendish for the Telegraph, as well as Peter Kirwan’s thoughtful piece for his website The Bardathon.
1. The fact of the NT Live broadcast. Obvious as it is to say, but how is it that broadcasting to cinemas can allow the rest of us who were couldn’t get tickets to experience this production. I don’t think we are in danger of taking NT Live for granted, nor the RSC’s new Live from Stratford-upon-Avon initiative, but the access this is enabling to prestige productions really is game-changing.
2. The lower key of Emma Freud’s introduction together with the restriction to a verbal pitch news of upcoming NT Live showings. For my taste, Emma’s over-excited style has taken some of the gloss off recent NT Live showings but she was more restrained here – and to better effect. Ditto, at previous screenings, the NT’s relentless barking of future events with repeated screenings of trailers. Less tonight was most definitely more.
3. The camera direction of the broadcast by Tim van Someren. The staging was in a deconsecrated church on an earth-packed space between two banks of seating. The action moved up and down the full length, with areas in use also at both ends. There was an effective use of a high gallery too. All of which posed numerous problems for translating this to the screen. But van Someren and his team achieved a really fluid and vivid style, with a great deal of movement, strong close-ups, and a particularly impressive use of an overhead wirecam which is mainly used for football and rugby.
1. The uninformative pre-show interview between Emma Freud and co-director Rob Ashford.
2. The stage production itself. Perhaps the effect was heightened by the broadcast, but this hot-ticket staging came across as almost relentlessly one-note. It felt like an old-fashioned barn-stormer that was shouty and short on subtlety. The pitch of the performances (and most notably Alex Kingston’s) was consistently high and oft-times close to hysterical. Only at one moment – when Branagh gave ‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow’ – did he pull back, close down and reveal a sense of interiority. Then I felt I was watching the great actor he is. But overall, I agree with Peter Kirwan who described the event as ‘an exceptional broadcast of what turned out to be a disappointingly standard production of Macbeth.’