Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
that struts and frets his hour upon the stage
and then is heard no more. It is a tale
told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
The production of Macbeth by the National Theatre of Scotland that GH and I watched last night took the despairing speech above and made it literal. Set in a psychiatric ward, which filled the entire Rose Theater stage and so dwarfed any human action, the production starred Alan Cumming as a mental patient who played all the major roles of the play. Cumming put in a virtuosic performance, switching from character to character fluently, declaiming almost non-stop for 1 hour 45 minutes. But the virtuosity of the performance created a problem for me. I was so engrossed in looking out for the switches that I was never fully immersed in the drama. The characters might have been cleanly delineated by the actor but they were not fully inhabited. Could they be, by any single actor?
Perhaps the patient himself, and not the Scottish tyrant, was supposed to engage our sympathies. Certainly, Cumming played the patient's anguish with great feeling, but since we did not know why and how he was hospitalized, we had little to go on to understand him. There were clues to his life before institutuonalization. One of the most brilliant moments came when Cumming drew out a tiny baby knitwear from a brown paper bag held his personal belongings. The knitwear then stood in for Macduff's son, slaughtered along with the rest of Macduff's family by Macbeth's murderers. Could the patient too have suffered such a terrible massacre? Was that what turned him insane? It was a tantalising thought. The production refused to confirm or deny it. The audience might have been watching him through a one-way observation panel as were his doctors, but we knew far less than the supposed medical experts. We watched but were not encouraged to diagnose.
John Tiffany and Andrew Goldberg directed this production.