Recently a group of Year 11s and 12s went to see Macbeth at the recently refurbished Lyric Theatre in Belfast. As Macbeth is one of their set texts at GCSE English, this offered students the opportunity to appreciate the intricacies of stagecraft, costume, lighting and sound effects while reinforcing Shakespeare’s themes of treason and vaulting ambition.
For many students this was a highly anticipated evening as it was their first experience of a live performance. As the lights dimmed and the theatre resonated with the ominous sounds of thunder and lightning, the students prepared themselves for an evening filled with murder and hubris. The broodingly elegant stage added to the supernatural atmosphere. Deceptively simple at first glance, the two tiered set incorporated a gravel-strewn blasted heath on top, while the lower tier was comprised of over-sized slabs of slate functioning as walls, shelves and steps from which the actors entered and exited with flourishes of spectacle or inexplicably vanished into the swirling mist.
The ‘instruments of darkness’, the three witches, appear central stage. The haunting images of three hooded faceless women, swathed in plastic raincoats merged the supernatural with the domestic. Half mystical harbingers and half collaborating co-workers, the witches’ duality enabled the production to locate the drama in both the 17th century and contemporary Belfast.
The character of Macbeth was performed by the distinguished actor Stuart Graham, whose previous roles include a leading part in Thomas Alfredson’s Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy. A physically and emotionally demanding role, Graham’s Macbeth was utterly compelling. The Thane of Cawdor’s descent into madness was a tour de force. In the banquet scene, Graham’s wide-eyed mania and paranoia at the sight of a blood drenched Banquo was simply enthralling. Lady Macbeth was played by Irish Times Drama Award nominee Andrea Irvine whose thrilling soliloquy, her evocation to the ‘murdering ministers’ to ‘unsex me now’ resulted in many gasps of terror from the Wellington students.
The final scene produced a collective sigh of relief as the ‘dead butcher’ and his ‘fiend like wife’ were defeated by the forces of good. As the students made their way to the exits comments such as, “Awesome”, “Brilliant” and “Excellent”, were overheard. Macbeth provided a unique opportunity for our students to experience the vivacity of live theatre, an experience that will be hopefully be with them for many years to come!