Tour (I watched at Blairgowrie Town Hall)
6th September 2014
This is a double bill of Shakespearean levity. The starting points are one tragedy and one comedy, but while the abbreviated version of the Dream (‘A Midsummer Night’s Nap’) is played straight, we are treated to a parody version of Macbeth which makes it even more Scottish than it already was… but more on that below.
The whistle-stop tour through Dream is funny enough, with a few really charming performances – a teenaged girl Puck in Converse; the sturdy Flute bellowing out Thisbe’s lines at ear-splitting pitch; in fact all the Mechanicals, including the battle between the irresistible force of Mistress Quince’s charm offensive and the immovable object of Bottom, are great fun. There’s also an enjoyably disdainful Hippolyta, whose often-cut line about her past life of rubbing shoulders with Hercules and Cadmus is left in, so as to lend more force to her disbelief when confronted by the Mechanicals. In fact, the cuts are such an important part of the piece that they almost feel like a character in themselves – especially if you know the play and are expecting lines such as ‘I know a bank where the wild thyme blows’ to lead into speeches where they just, um, don’t. It’s understandable and perhaps necessary for the production to feel like it’s racing ahead of itself, but at times it also feels like nobody is getting time to do any acting – or, sometimes, even giving themselves the time to get their words out. It’s a shame that we don’t get the chance to savour the Bard’s words, but the fast pace and large cast bring spirit and humour in droves.
There’s some clever use of the ‘orchestra’ area beyond the stage’s apron in the Dream, with Puck peering over it at the lovers sleeping, and lying down on her front to sprinkle the love-juice over the edge. We’re then taken off-guard at the end of the first half, when the fairies who collect up the lovers’ tartan blankets from this area start to squabble and cackle – turning into two of the witches we will see next in Macbeth. Bringing the two halves together in this unexpected way, in the very laps of the audience, is quite chilling and original – I love it.
What of Macbeth? Well, it isn’t exactly Macbeth – it’s a production-cum-parody whereby each scene (again, viciously cut) is followed by a ‘translation’ of itself into colloquial Scots. The conceit is that Shakespeare’s wife is in fact Mistress Quince, the sweet Scottish dramaturge we have just met in the Dream. She has helpfully created this alternative Macbeth to be presented alongside her husband’s after noticing the irony that many Scottish people really didn’t understand Shakespeare’s original version at all. So ‘Is this a dagger which I see before me, the handle toward my hand?’ becomes ‘oh cripes, wid ye luik at that? A bloody dagger! Ah’m seein’ things noo!’
As a comment on English-Scottish relations, staged as it is on the eve of the independence referendum, this isn’t a comparison that especially favours the Scots – though perhaps it is intended to tell us something about how seriously each country takes itself. At any rate, the necessity of repeating each scene means that the Scots parts have to work particularly hard to keep us amused, but mostly they do – especially the witches, whose ‘hail, Macbeths’ turn into a giggly Glaswegian ‘hiya, big boy!’, among other things. I’m also grateful for the fact that the first and second iterations of each scene have different entrances and exits, meaning the whole show feels like a well-choreographed dance, rather than like we’re watching the same thing happen again and again. Similarly to the Dream, there are some great quirks of staging, such as Banquo and all his descendants wearing See You Jimmy hats, Banquo’s ghost hiding itself under the tablecloth to reference the usual costume-made-from-a-sheet, and the part of Fleance being played by an orange-haired puppet made from three different types of tartan. (I’m not sure why all the best laughs – apart from the farting porter – congregate around Banquo.) Macbeth and Lady Macbeth give strong performances, and indeed the whole cast deals admirably with the task of rapidly switching from Will Shakespeare to Oor Wullie and back. All in all, the two halves of the show pull together to make up a good-natured dose of comedy, character and charm.