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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Alan Cumming's Macbeth


I saw Alan Cumming’s Macbeth last night.

Wow.

Truly amazing.

I didn’t quite know what to expect. I couldn’t believe he was doing all of the parts. That’s madness, I thought. 

I thought it would be impossibly difficult for him to perform and impossibly difficult for us, the audience, to follow.

How could one man do all of Macbeth???



Alan Cumming's Macbeth at the Barrymore

Well, I don’t think I will ever see as perfect a Macbeth as I saw last night.

I really enjoy reading the play, and I have seen other productions with other actors that were quite good. 

I think Macbeth was a remarkably personal play for Shakespeare, and there is a great deal he wanted to communicate with this play.

To have several actors perform the play is well and good, but it can distract from what Shakespeare was writing, and trying to communicate.
Having Alan Cumming perform almost the entire play by himself allows us to really hear the play -- to focus on the words, and not be distracted by everything else.

In Shakespeare’s time, you didn’t go to see a play, you went to hear a play.

With Cumming, you can hear the play that is Macbeth. Loud and clear.

Far from being difficult to follow the play or understand what is happening, this version of Macbeth benefits from having one single artist communicate the work of another single artist. 

It reduces Macbeth to the barest essential elements that inspired Shakespeare to write the play.

I think that Shakespeare wrote Macbeth in something of a fever-dream. It is a work of art born of great suffering.

Macbeth was written shortly after the Gunpowder Plot to assassinate King James, his family, and blow up Parliament.

The period after the Plot was a nightmare for the nation. Shakespeare would have suffered from the same nightmares.

Macbeth was his response. It was his way of wrestling with the terror that was gripping England. 

When Shakespeare sat down to write the play, I think he wrote it with a feverish intensity.

Alan Cumming is the only actor I have seen whose performance matched the intensity with which the play was originally written.

How Cumming did this, I would love to know. But he performed the play from a place I think Shakespeare knew all too well.

You could say that Alan Cumming conjured the spirit of Shakespeare on stage last night.

I do hope Cumming re-visits this play in the future. I would hate to think that this is the last time he will ever perform Macbeth. It would be fascinating to see him do this again in a few years.

He has such an obvious love of the play that I find it hard to believe that he will part with Macbeth forever.

There are only 70 more performances left for this run, so I strongly urge you to see this if you can.

Hopefully, they will film this and release it on home video.

Of course, it would be very hard to reproduce the energy of a live performance on a DVD.





I was in the second row, near the center, and the entire show was engrossing, and at times overpowering. 

I didn't expect it to be so emotionally moving, and wrenching. How he was able to play the character of a man of questionable sanity while eliciting our compassion was truly remarkable.

I know it sounds funny, but there is only one other artist I have ever seen who was so emotionally overpowering.

I once saw Mary J. Blige in concert, and near the front row. To be honest, I am not the biggest fan of hers, but to see her in concert is something else entirely.

I had to move to a seat a few rows back because she was so powerful.

Watching Cumming perform almost all of the roles all by himself had much the same effect. Many people around me after the show were really moved. Some of them were emotionally wiped out.

Cumming was full of energy and was constantly moving, drawing the audience into the story and deeper into the character he was playing.

I can't think of many actors who can brave the stage all by themselves and bare their souls to the audience the way he does. The fact that he does it for Macbeth says a lot about him, and how unique and historically significant this production is.





The play is set in a psychiatric ward, and there is a bit of mystery why he is there in the first place.

I honestly didn’t know if I would like this framing concept, but it works. Also, how else could he be allowed to perform all of the roles? How else could he perform not only Macbeth, but Lady Macbeth, and so many others?

I don’t want to ruin it, but watching him as Lady Macbeth seduce himself as Macbeth is brilliant!

There are other actors who fill in some parts of the play, and they are excellent. But almost the entire play is spoken and performed by Cumming, with little by way of props and set design.

Had there been any more actors and more set design, changing sets, etc. I think it would have worked against the play.

I especially liked the way they handled the witches/weird sisters. It’s a stroke of genius.

The entire production surprised me and far exceeded my expectations.

If you want to see an artist perfectly in tune with a play and it's playwright, you have to go see this.

Cheers,