Posted by: mkl325 | July 20, 2013

Kenneth Branagh in Shakespeare’s Macbeth

Kenneth Branagh as Macbeth

Kenneth Branagh as Macbeth

Tonight is the final performance of Kenneth Branagh’s Macbeth at the Manchester International Festival. It is being live-streamed to the movie theater here in St. Andrews and a few friends of mine and I are going.  When my sister was visiting, we were able to get tickets to one of the preview performances, making Manchester our final stop here in the UK.

There is no real way for me to describe how excited I was to see this production. When I was in the third grade, Clare dragged me along with her friends to see Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing and I have never looked back. It was around this time that my Mom decided I was old enough to start going to the Shakespeare Theater with the rest of my family. I became engrossed in the language and the stories. I have read every play (more than once) and they feel different every time I read one.

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I adore actors like Derek Jacobi, Tom Hiddleston, Patrick Stewart, Ben Whishaw, and David Tennant but my first love has always been Kenneth Branagh. I have five favorite plays (it’s impossible to decide on one): Hamlet, The Tempest, Much Ado About Nothing, King Lear, and Macbeth. I had seen each of them performed live except for Macbeth. It was fate that I was about to see it performed for the first time while studying in Scotland. And since Clare has been there from the beginning of my obsession it seemed only fitting that we were going to this production together.

We met at a warehouse to pick up our tickets and were given our group assignment. Once our group was called we were lead to a deconsecrated church that only housed 200 people.

The view to the other side of the theater from my seat

The view to the other side of the theater from my seat

The theater filled up

The theater filled up

There was mud on the floor and Alex Kingston (as Lady Macbeth) was lighting candles under the darkened windows, while everyone was shown to their seats. Once the lights went down, smoke filled the room and the witches began their speech. Then, as though there was any other way for me to see Kenneth Branagh in person for the first time, thunder and lightening crashed and he was standing 8 feet away from me.

Alex Kingston lighting  candles before the performance

Alex Kingston lighting candles before the performance

The entire production was amazing. There was rain, mist, incense and fire, and the compact nature of the space, you felt as though you were apart of the performance. The cast was insanely talented (Jimmy Yuill played Banquo). I may have geeked out about having met Yuill and that I made eye contact with Branagh (four times!).

One of the greatest things about Shakespeare is that it is living work, never more so than when in the hands of actors like Branagh. I know Macbeth’s final monologue as well as I know my address but even I was on the edge of my seat while he was talking. As he spoke, he seemed to be looking for the right words, as if they were not already entombed in his memory. I know I am biased but honestly, I have never seen anything as impressive as his performance.

I took this during the curtain call, not realizing that I might not have been allowed to do so.

I took this during the curtain call, not realizing that I might not have been allowed to do so.

So, of course, I am now taking a break from writing to relive this experience with some of my Art History colleagues. I have talked it up so much that I hope they enjoy it…although I don’t know how they couldn’t.

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