Source : The Ambassador’s Theatre Group Magazine Autumn 2002
It's a role he's been thinking about for some time now. "It's impossible to have an overview of Macbeth," he explains, "because everything the man does, he does instantly. He lives completely and totally in the moment and then he suffers for it. His imagination races, he begins hallucinating and doesn't sleep for days. I love the juxtaposition of all these really strong emotions - the wild imagination, the massive mood swings, the ambition, the guilt and remorse - they're all thrown into a pot and together it's quite a potent brew." He stops himself mid-flow, laughing his cracking laugh, acknowledging his inadvertent lapse into an appropriate witch-like metaphor. "It's a part I suppose deep down I've always wanted to play, but until recently I didn't dare to imagine it might be possible."
Of the production itself, Sean says in an interview with The Theatregoer
"I've been thinking about this role for the last 20 years and I really want to try and give it a shot." Due to the various work commitments of the proposed cast, not least his own, it's taken two years for the production to come to fruition. But on 14 November his dream of playing Macbeth on a West End stage (Albery Theatre) will finally become a reality.
The new production, directed by Ed Hall and co-starring Samantha Bond as Lady Macbeth, is set against a backdrop of a 'non-specific war-torn republic'. "It's somewhat similar to Kosovo, with various warlords vying for position, and it's quite an ambivalent style with not much space for ornamant and indulgence."
Because it's a 'timeless' production as opposed to something incongruously modern, it's more swords and leather jackets than guns and Armani suits. "The set is also very interesting and adds to the claustrophobia that the play dwells in," says Sean.
Sean won't be adopting a Scottish voice for Macbeth. "Because the play itself is timeless and the location isn't placeable, I think it should be the same with the voice. There are qualities in a northern accent that are quite similar to a Scottish one in that it is very strong, very flat and powerful, and I don't want to lose those particular elements of the dialect. I just want to do something unobtrusive that isn't distracting.
Quote from the Samantha Bond Interview in The Glasgow Guardian, The name is Bond.. Sam Bond
When I did Macbeth with Sean Bean [her co-star in Goldeneye], we played to an extraordinary audience; people who had never been to the theatre before. I would sit in my dressing room thinking Oh God, its going to be a nightmare. And then they sat in rapt silence until the end of the play, and when I came out for curtain call it was like being one of the Spice Girls. That experience was a useful way of using celebrity in the theatre taking someone who can do it, whos seen as a sex symbol and has been in the Bond films at this point she leans further towards my tape recorder to say Im talking about Sean Bean here and we played to capacity. Her candid sense of humour returns as she continues. Whats quite cheering, in a peculiar sort of way, is that when Madonna was in a West End play, it flopped, as it obviously would, because acting on stage is quite tricky. So there are two sides to it really, and the ultimate difference is that Sean Bean can act and Madonna cant.
“I suppose I was still trying to keep hold of my Sheffield life. Coming from a warm and friendly and quite close community to this madness living in the YMCA above Tottenham Court Road, it was touch and go for six months. I thought, ‘Christ, this is hard, this’, but I persevered and found that, once I’d begun to find myself and be myself rather than try and fit in and be somebody else, I was really enjoying it and I excelled in what I was doing.”
He graduated in April 1983 and was immediately cast as Tybalt in a provincial production of Romeo and Juliet. Three years later he was Romeo at the RSC. His TV career was also under way, thanks to a Channel 4 movie, Winter Flight. In the cinema he had taken the unlikely role of a bisexual model in Derek Jarman’s Caravaggio (so much for homophobia) and in 1988 he made his first Hollywood film, Stormy Monday, with Melanie Griffith.
The work has never stopped and it has taken him all over the world, not just to Hollywood but for long months to the Ukraine and Turkey for Sharpe and for an entire year to New Zealand for Lord of the Rings.
Did he never say, for his family’s sake, “No, I want to stay at home”? “No, not unless I thought it was important to be at home. I do think it is important to be at home, but I also think it’s important to pursue a career and to maintain a lifestyle.”
Bean has never talked publicly about his domestic life, but it has not matched his professional success. Debra and he divorced soon after they married and he fell in love with a fellow student, Melanie Hill, later to become well known as Aveline in the BBC’s Liverpudlian sitcom Bread.
After eight years together, they were watching a TV programme about marriage when he proposed to her with the immortal words “fancy a bit of that, then?”. Their “honeymoon” was in York, the day the Blades had a match there.
“Serendipity,” he claims.
In April 1996, however, four years after the birth of their second daughter, it was announced that they were separating. A“friend” of Melanie’s told the News of the World that Bean was a selfish, untidy husband who put football first.
By the autumn he was back filming Sharpe and sharing a bed with Abigail Cruttenden, who played Jane Gibbons, the abused niece of one of Sharpe’s dastardly enemies. They married in 1997 and soon had a daughter. Within a year of her birth, however, this marriage too was over.
I ask if there is a personal cost in a pursuing a career as relentlessly as he has. “Yeah, there is. That’s the way it is, but I personally think it balances itself out because I might be away for three or four months but I’m often back home then for a couple of months where I might see my children and family much more than anybody in a normal nine-to-five job.”
So they are not shouting at him that they never see him and that he is a terrible dad? “No. I think it’s easier because my oldest daughter’s mum’s an actress and my younger daughter’s mum’s an actress and I’m an actor, so they’ve always been accustomed to the moving around and the way an actor’s life works.”
Lorna, 15, and Molly, 11, were actually bridesmaids at his wedding to Abigail. So they must be close to him? “I’ve had a few ups and downs but I suppose, at the end of the day, things work themselves out and I’ve got three kids who are happy.”
Is he on good terms with the wives? “Pretty good.”
Is he content living alone? “Yeah, I mean especially like this last few weeks of rehearsals, probably if anybody had been with me I’d have been a bit of a pain in the arse to live with. It’s just been all day every day in Hendon, come back at night, learn some lines, have something to eat, go to bed. In that sense it’s quite fitting to be alone.”
It is hard to tell whether he is enjoying his freedom or enduring it. He seems reluctant, generally, to pass negative judgments. In her book (Sean Bean: The Biography, Piatkus, £10.99), his diligent unofficial hagiographer, Laura Jackson, finds it equally hard to find a colleague who will criticise him. Yet by default an impression builds up of a man who may be fuming inside.
His tutor at RADA, Euan Smith, said: “He could be argumentative, not with me but with other students. I saw flashes of it. Sean was quite restless at that time and he’s not good with untapped energy, so there was an edginess to him.”
It was at RADA that he received the £50 fine for ABH, after gatecrashing a party and getting into a fight. Roy Battersby, who directed him as a hard man in Winter Flight, spoke of how Bean “viscerally” appreciated “class rage”: “He understands what it is to be dangerous.”
He can be dangerous. In 1991 his director on Clarissa told him to slap Saskia Wickham — with her permission — for real in the rape scene. “When Sean clattered me round the face I burst into tears! It was really sore, but it was also the complete shock of it,” she later said. The next day he brought her a gift of a glass box etched with flowers.
More recently, in 1999, filming a TV thriller called, appropriately, Extremely Dangerous, he came close to injuring an actor he had to throw against a cabinet door. His co-star, Nitin Ganatra, said: “Sean got into the part so much that his energy was astonishing and the real glass in the door shattered and showered all over the poor guy. The split second that happened, Sean snapped out and he was so concerned for the kid.”
Bean agrees he was initially shaken. “But it looked good and when we all calmed down I said, ‘Do you think we might be able to use that?’” Does he, I ask, ever lose himself in anger? “I do. Well, I like to when I’m on stage. It’s great. You think, ‘F*** it. I can get really angry here and it might be really good and everybody likes it. I can be really f***ing angry with somebody.’ It’s great, a great release valve, and you find you don’t get as angry in life.”
What is remarkable, however, is that even when the thugs he plays lose control, they retain a vestige of our sympathy. His secret seems to be that he does not, like his critics, divide his work between romantic leads, villains and action heroes. “No,” he says, “I try to combine their qualities.”
When he talks about Macbeth, then, he emphasises not his tyranny but his “wild imagination”, energy and even morality. He is describing a Macbeth I have never considered before. “I don’t think he’s a particularly evil man. His deeds are evil and what he does is evil, but he’s a man of conscience and of great courage and resolve. If there’s one thing you have to admire, it’s his courage and his ability to pull himself up from the depths and carry on.”
It sounds as if he likes him. “Well, yeah. I admire a lot of his qualities.”
Impatient to find out how this interpretation works out in practice, at the weekend I visit the production’s out-of-town try-out. In his number-two haircut and bouncer’s leather coat, he is a very Sheffield Macbeth. When he calls Lady Macbeth “chuck” (“Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck”), it sounds like local dialect. But I hope I am not pre-empting the critics when I say — and at least the management can’t quote this in an ad — that Bean is no Peter O’Toole.
"Bloody, bold and resolute!"
Fair is foul and Sean Bean is most definitely fair! A Tuesday night in Milton Keynes and Katy Lewis struggles with her professional integrity!
Six years of study, two degrees in English Literature, and the desperate desire to be the Michael Billington of the Beds, Herts and Bucks Web site, versus the fact that Sean Bean is one of the sexiest men on the planet. While I spent the whole play thinking about the interpretation of the themes, my thoughts were often interupted by the fact that Sean spent a lot of time in leather! And a natty little black mesh number - and at one stage, no top at all! Hurrah!
Here's what happened: Passion, eroticism, sexual tension - it's all there in the play, as Shakespeare presents to his audience, moral choices and the seductive lure of power. But this is probably the first time that I have seen it performed with all of those themes so much to the fore. The mind wanders .... First bed scene - blimey! Loads of snogging! And first glimpse of that attractive mesh type shirt! This is almost entirely due to the superb acting skills of, and the chemistry between, Sean Bean as Macbeth and Samantha Bond as Lady Macbeth. In their stormy and physical relationship, the electrifying and ultimately destructive sexual tension between the two is palpable. For as Macbeth goes on his murderous spree, spurred on by his ambitious bully of a wife, it is clear that her power over him is rooted in sex and that power is indeed a strong aphrodisiac.
It is the weird sisters that first unleash this passion with their prophecy. Instead of the stereotypical 'old hags' that you normally see, these three are young and slinky and sing to him hypnotically with the voices of angels. The first indication that ambition might be sexy!
The mind wanders .... A 'sharpe' intake of breath and a wave of electricity rippled through the audience. My friend dug me in the ribs. This was the moment we'd all 'bean' waiting for. Sean's top was OFF!
Their appearance also drums home other themes such as appearances are not always what they seem. Then after the interval, Sean Bean appears stripped to the waist. The weird sisters writhe around him, imparting their latest prophecy - it's nothing short of erotic! In addition, the first scene where Macbeth and his Lady are together is incredibly sensual and Samantha Bond is an excellent partner. She is clearly an equal in what seems to be a thoroughly modern relationship.
The mind wanders .... Goodness me - their hands are roaming everywhere. I'm suprised he can speak at all! What I would give ....
Sometimes, seeing a famous film or TV star transporting their skills to the stage can be disappointing as the genre are very different. Not so with Sean Bean. Macbeth's tortured soliloquies focus on the implications of what he has done for his soul. He doesn't enjoy his crimes like Richard III and he's not as philosophical as Hamlet, his are sensory and increasingly irrational.
The mind wanders .... Can't remember where his 'Blades' tattoo is. Can't see it - perhaps they've covered it with make-up. After all - it's not really appropriate for an ambitious man who craves success to support Sheffield United!
Bean plays it brilliantly, perfectly establishing the turmoil of Macbeth's mind as he descends into a kind of madness. But he's not worn down and defeated, he's just pretty pee'd off that after all the trouble he's gone to, and all the stress of committing practically every crime under the sun, things still haven't gone to plan.
The mind wanders .... Not sure about the hair. I prefer it longer on him really but it's perfect for this part. He looks really hard!
The ensemble played their parts on a set that perfectly created the right atmosphere. The general picture is dark and desolate but some stunning lighting design eerily lights some scenes with a much brighter white light - giving it a very supernatural feel. This fits in with the play's themes of contrast between reality and the supernatural and how appearances can be deceptive. I am reluctant to say that this was a modern dress production because there was a mixture between the old and the new.
The mind wanders .... Yes well - he always did look good in a uniform, didn't he. Think Sharpe! Looks even better with it off though!
The male costumes were generally military, and then men used both swords and guns. Meanwhile the dresses had a 40s feel to them while still managing to look period. The whole effect was a truely timeless feel - just like the themes. Oh yes, and there's also a lot (and I mean a lot) of blood! This, together with pyrotechnics, some strobe lighting and gunfire effects, incredibly realistic fight scenes and great acting meant that as the lights came up at the end, I realised that I must have been holding my breath for the whole of the second half!
There are many lessons to be learned from Macb, not least of which is putting your faith in people who purport to reveal your fate - even if they do look young and sexy! Remember that before giving your cash to a fortune teller! The conclusion - well, if you love Shakespeare and are more than a bit partial to Sean, then what more could you want?! A top (and thought provoking of course) night out. It's a tale - NOT told by an idiot, full of sound and fury and signifying quite a lot really!
Bloody, bold and resolute - I think I'll be going again - to-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow!
I am very happy to have obtained this magazine, with original signature.. click twice for full size.
Source: The Ambassadors Theatre Group Magazine
Sean Bean gets under Macbeth's skin
Interview by Zoe Mylchreest
Film stars, eh? Glamorous bunch, the lot of them. No doubt they live it up when jetting off on location. Sean Bean, star of many films, including Lord of the Rings and Goldeneye, lets us in on what goes on behind the scenes.
Whilst making Don't Say a Word with Michael Douglas, he had a break from filming. "I had a few days off," he says, "and was hanging out in a hotel room in New York." So far, so predictable. Brace yourself for stories of excessive movie star behaviour. "I had a bit of time to kill," he says, "so I went off to a book shop and bought myself a copy of Macbeth." What's all this? Book shop? Reading? What about the all-night parties and reckless behaviour? Nothing doing apparently. "It was a role I'd rather hankered after," he continues. "I read it again that day and was just blown away by it. I rang my agent straight away to see if there was any way we could make it happen. I wasn't sure whether anyone would be interested or if it would be possible." How modest is this man? But, happen it did. Within a few days producer Sonia Friedman had snapped him up and soon they were in discussion with director Edward Hall. And here they all are, stuck into rehearsals and realising an actor's dream. So, bang goes the notion of the rock and roll life style on location. There's our very own Sean Bean conquering Hollywood and instead of throwing things out of hotel windows, he's curled up inside sharing a quiet moment with Shakespeare.
But it was a brave move as this is not a role to be undertaken lightly. Macbeth is a big challenge for any actor, especially since Sean Bean has been away from the stage for over a decade. He's been on a roller-coaster of success shooting film and television back to back. Known to millions as the dashing Napoleonic rifleman Sharpe, he's gone on to play a number of hardmen - in Patriot Games, Ronin, and most famously as the villainous 006 in Goldeneye.
Talking to Sean, the most startling thing is just how damn nice he is. A thoroughly decent, down-to-earth bloke. Curious then that in many of his hit films, he's been cast as the baddie. But in person, he's far from it. Mixing with the Hollywood hot shots hasn't rubbed away his natural warmth. He's totally easy-going and makes you feel like you're his best friend in a matter of minutes. So, how's Mr Nice Guy going to get under the skin of the murderous Macbeth? It's a role he's been thinking about for some time now. "It's impossible to have an overview of Macbeth," he explains, "because everything the man does, he does instantly. He lives completely and totally in the moment and then he suffers for it. His imagination races, he begins hallucinating and doesn't sleep for days. I love the juxtaposition of all these really strong emotions - the wild imagination, the massive mood swings, the ambition, the guilt and remorse - they're all thrown into a pot and together it's quite a potent brew." He stops himself mid-flow, laughing his cracking laugh, acknowledging his inadvertent lapse into an appropriate witch-like metaphor. "It's a part I suppose deep down I've always wanted to play, but until recently I didn't dare to imagine it might be possible."
His sexy laugh and mesmerising eyes will certainly work for him in this part. Macbeth has to be deeply charismatic to take you with him on his extraordinary journey, but he also has to have a convincingly passionate relationship with his wife. Lady Macbeth is one of the most devilish of Shakespeare's characters and Sean's lucky enough to be playing opposite the talented Samantha Bond, a woman best known as the modern Miss Moneypenny. "Strangely enough, although we were both in Goldeneye, we never met," explains Sean, "as we didn't have any scenes together. There is a hugely strong bond between Macbeth and his wife: the two characters are linked together; they tell each other everything - their desires and ambitions - and you have to believe they are totally passionate about one another." With someone as charming and charismatic as Sean Bean that sounds like a joy for any actress. "We seem to have good chemistry," he admits slightly mischievously. Lucky Samantha.
Strutting your stuff as Macbeth in the West End stage is some achievement for this modest man from the North of England, and he's kept his feet firmly on the ground, acknowledging what a privileged job he has. "If you'd said to me when I was a kid at drama school that I'd be playing Macbeth in the West End, I'd have found it hard to believe. I haven't felt like this about a part for a long time now. I've never been so engrossed, so wrapped up in everything about it. This is the role of a lifetime. Subconsciously I feel that I've been building up to this for about 20 years; it's always been at the back of my mind that I've wanted to have a go."
So, have a go, he will. Thank God for that quiet moment in his hotel, without which he'd still be hanging out on film sets. He's such a genuine guy that you can't help but wish him well as he takes on Shakespeare's most ambitious and tortured man. With all his enthusiasm, charisma and charm, it looks like audiences are in for a treat. This is one time when Sean Bean will be anything but nice.
"Horrible imaginings": Sean Bean gets inside Macbeth
Sean Bean has a successful film and TV career but has wanted to play Macbeth since he was nineteen and studying drama at Rotherham Art College
How do you see the character of Macbeth?
I think Macbeth is instinctive and emotionally driven but he is not an evil man. At the beginning of the play he's in a state of high emotion, he's just killed Macdonald and heard the prophesies, and then he's pushed even further by his wife. So he kills Duncan while his mind is still racing and afterwards suffers awful mental anguish ("wake Duncan with thy knocking I wish thou couldst"). He tries to shut himself off from the pain and goes deeper into his dark side, killing every obstacle to the throne ("I am in blood stepped in so far") but he suffers mental anguish all the time. He has the qualities of a warrior but he doesn't have the qualities of a King and like Idi Amin or Hitler he starts with the people behind him but, corrupted by power, becomes a tyrant.
How do you see Macbeth's relationship with Lady Macbeth?
At the beginning the relationship is a secure unit - he's the warrior, she's the perfect hostess - and they love each other passionately. In fact, she is the driving force and he's swayed by her. After Duncan's murder the unit starts to crumble. It's not that they haven't had ambitious thoughts before but the deed itself changes Macbeth. He is no longer dependent on his wife and she's terrified by the change in him. At the end of the play he tries to care - he asks the doctor to "pluck out the memory of rooted sorrow" for her - but when he hears of her death he can't feel anything; he has become detached.
Do you think Macbeth has had a son?
There are enough clues in the script for it to make sense that Macbeth has lost a child some years before the action of the play ("I have given suck"). It's the only thing missing from his life and why he has become so close to his wife - they only have each other. There is also a bitterness in Macbeth because he has no heir : he envies Macduff and Banquo for their wonderful children and this helps to fuel his paranoia.
Are the Weird Sisters real or imaginary?
After the banquet, the Director has the Weird Sisters appearing in Macbethâs bedroom ("I conjure you by that which you profess") and it's almost like a waking dream so we're not quite sure when they've gone whether Macbeth has been sleeping or not. The point is that he has become so reliant on them that they are now a figment of his imagination which he uses to justify his actions.
What is the difference between your approach to Macbeth and your film work?
I have worked with some good screen writers but I havenât ever come across something as balanced as this. You never get the feeling that Shakespeare is forcing his personality on any particular character, they are all so credible, and at the end of the play he leaves the questions hanging, he doesn't wrap it all up in a happy ending. When you're rehearsing you usually get to the point where you think that's as far as the writer meant you to go - you can't explore the part any more because it's not there in the script - but this is bottomless and Iâm finding new things out all the time.
"A murderous Juliet": Sam Bond rehearses Lady Macbeth
Sam Bond first played Lady Macbeth at drama school twenty years ago. Since then she has played Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, Beatrice in Much Ado about Nothing, Hermione in The Winter's Tale and Rosalind in As You Like It.
How did you work on the part to start with?
The first week of rehearsals was just with me and Sean which gave the two of us the chance to get to know each other gently before the rest of the cast arrived; for all the wonderful ways of describing Lady Macbethâs marriage it can never be described as gentle (loving, sexy, passionate and tempestuous perhaps but never gentle) so this week was great for "breaking the ice" between us. In the following week when suddenly all these new people invaded our space it was very hard not to feel got at which was probably quite a good thing for the play!
What have you discovered about Lady Macbeth's relationship with her husband?
Sean suggested starting the first scene lying on the bed and, given that this is a couple who can't really keep their hands off each other, that has changed things quite substantially. It's given a different flavour to the whole of the first half because it's made the sexual energy between them very strong. We visited a psychologist who talked about the sexuality of murder, the sexual high that most murders are committed on, so that if you link this into their relationship - abandon guilt for sexual excitement - you open a completely new door. I've been keen for her not to be just evil - I've never understood the "evil woman" take on her - but suddenly it seemed that you need to let go of your own moral judgements to find the character. She's not evil but she can be amoral and playing that is hugely liberating - I told the director I felt like a murderous Juliet!
When does she start to go mad?
The turning point is when she listens to her husbandâs public description of Duncan's dead body ("his gashed stabs..like a breach in nature"). Shakespeare suggests she collapse here and this is sometimes played as a feigned response to Macbeth's dissembling but we decided it should be a genuine collapse to mark the moment she has to face reality. From this point on she begins to lose control and (just as insanely) he tries to control everything which is what leads to the other murders. In his move to take control he decides not to share anything with her so not only is she struggling with her own demons but she also fears for what he might be doing. Before the banquet Macbeth dismisses her along with the rest of the court which is something that has never happened before and she can't understand why.
How have you approached the "sleepwalking scene"?
We talked to a sleep psychologist who said that much of what Shakespeare has written is medically accurate. Apparently unless we sleep in darkness we stay in a shallow form of sleep and our inner clock has no rest. Lady Macbeth appears with a light and is described as having "light by her continually" so we can deduce that her sleeping patterns have been generally distracted. There's also something called "night terrors" which are a result of some deep-seated anxiety. The victim seems to wake in the middle of a nightmare but can't actually be woken until the nightmare has run its course. At this stage we haven't decided whether Lady Macbeth is having "night terrors" or not but it might be an effective and distressing way of playing the scene.
How does the "lost son" affect Lady Macbeth?
The loss of your own child must be enormous. In the world of the play the child mortality rate would have been high but I donât think it is any more comforting to know that other people's children have aIso died. I think that being childless leaves them both free to put their energies into each other in a way that canât happen if you have a child to look after. When Lady Macbeth uses the famous image of dashing the child's brains out to persuade Macbeth to stick to their plan it's not because she's an awful person but because she has to think of a parallel thatâs going to be as weighty as killing a king - and that's killing your own child.
The play is produced by Sonia Friedman Productions,
Old Vic Productions PLC, Mark Rubinstein and TEG Productions.
Weird Sister/Lady MacDuff.............Clare Swinburne
Weird Sister .........................Alexandra Moen
Weird Sister/Gentlewoman .............Jayne McKenna
Duncan/Porter ........... ............Julian Glover
Malcolm ..............................Adrian Schiller
Captain/Murderer .....................Christian Patterson
Ross .................................David Beames
Macbeth ..............................Sean Bean
Banquo ...............................Barnaby Kay
Lennox ...............................Finn Caldwell
Lady Macbeth .........................Samantha Bond
Servant/Messenger ....................Edmund Moriarty
Fleance ..............................James Devey
Macduff ..............................Mark Bazeley
Donalbain/Young Siward ...............Tam Williams
Seyton ...............................Ian Pirie
Murderer/Doctor ......................Nicholas Asbury
Murderer/Old Siward ..................Edward Clayton
Young Macduff ........................Aaron Johnson
Messenger ............................Christopher Obi
Review from Louise
Tuesday night at Richmond was my first viewing of the play. I'd read all of the fan reviews from Milton Keynes, so on some levels I knew what to expect. To see the play for yourself is something completely different, and I was spellbound from the opening crash of thunder to the last words spoken. I loved the setting and the costumes. I've seen a number of Shakespeare's plays on stage (most at the RSC), with quite a variety of interpretation. For me, ultra-modern costume/sets work just as well as the more traditional ones. Sean's outfits in particular look superb, as do Lady Macbeth's lovely dresses. The mix of militaristic styles seemed just right to convey a timeless setting, not any one place but evocative of any conflict situation.
The whole production is extremely well thought-out, and with fairly minimalist sets and dramatic use of lighting. You really focus on the protagonists. The main set, which remains intact throughout the play, consists of a central "tower", with large double doors at the base. Either side of the tower are steel-effect walls, with inbuilt ladders, and steps sweeping up either side from the front of the stage. This provides a very versatile arena, which is then "dressed" depending upon the scene. When the witches appear at the beginning, a fire appears through a grate centre-stage. When the Macbeths are in their private apartments or bedchamber, this is represented by a large bed wheeled to centre-stage. Other scenes employ a large throne-like chair, and a large dining table and chairs. I like this approach very much, as it allows a more complex, robust main set to be designed, rather than have what amounts to two-dimensional scenery panels raised and lowered.
Sean has a wonderful commanding stage presence. It's difficult to tear your eyes away from him, even if someone else is speaking (and not just for the obvious reason :-). He runs the gamut of emotion, and becomes truly terrifying as his "reign of blood" becomes ever worse. The dynamic between Sean and Samantha as Lady M is electrifying - a passionate relationship, eventually ripped asunder by their crimes, and when I say passionate, I do mean it :-) In the homecoming scene, where the Macbeths are reunited after he has been made Thane of Cawdor, there is a lot of physical contact between them. Words are only half of the story, and this is what makes this production shine.
Macbeth's relationship with the three witches is also portrayed in quite a sexual manner. Not a passionate, entwining relationship as with his wife, but beguiling, captivating. The witches are played by three attractive young women, and apart from the one scene where they have the masks of crones, they are lithe figures with long black dresses. In the second half of the play, Sean appears shirtless, sitting on the bed, and the witches appear to him again. They writhe around him, and he, in an almost hypnotised state, responds in kind, and it is an utterly sensuous scene.
On a lighter note, at this point it was interesting to see both of his tattoos, the original 100% Blade, and the new Elvish "nine" on his right arm :-) I don't recall anyone mentioning them in previous reports, and I was almost afraid they would have been covered by make-up. In the context of the modern military setting, tattoos and the like are perfectly in keeping, you would expect hard military types to sport them. At this point I must also mention Sean's haircut for the play. His hair is cut very close, a "buzzcut" or "Number One cut". Again, this works extremely well, its a classic military style, and one often sported by men nowadays. It adds that extra bit of menace and ruthlessness.
Apart from Sean, Sam Bond was just superb as Lady M. Her descent into madness was quite frightening, again a very impassioned performance. I've only seen Macbeth performed once before on stage, by a touring company at our local theatre, and that was utterly flat compared to this. Sean in particular makes the language his own, and so easy to follow. I also liked Julian Glover, as Duncan but in particular as the drunken porter. I'd read that scene and it just hadn't parsed with me, but he was hilarious (possibly the only semi-lighthearted scene in the whole play!). I also enjoyed the scene where Banquo's ghost appears at the banquet, sitting in the empty seat. The actor has blood all over his face and his shirt, and he sits there fixing Macbeth with an unwavering gaze. Sean's reaction is amazing, terrified and violent, at one point he vaults over the table to get away. One of the most frightening scenes was the murder of Lady Macduff and her children. Macbeth's "chief thug" is a very nasty piece of work, laughing maniacally with the younger child sitting on his knee, before running him through with a knife. Again, one more example of how this production really brought the story to life. Sean's eventual fight to the death with Macduff, and his despair at his wife's suicide, is heart-wrenching.
Thank you Sean, and indeed the entire cast, this is a tremendous, powerful, vibrant production, truly bringing Shakespeare's prose to life.