A Performance of Macbeth (1979)

This is the Thames TV version of Trevor Nunn’s famous mid-70s Macbeth production. Philip Casson directs, and not until tonight did I appreciate what an odd choice that was… years ago I saw his Comedy of Errors (which also came from a Nunn production), but didn’t know any more of his filmography; looking at him on IMDB, though, he seems to have come from a background of light entertainment (he was working on The Muppet Show at the same time he made this, for fuck’s sake) and not much else he’s done seems to indicate him as a Shakespearian. Then again, a film of a stage production like this always has a question hanging over it, i.e. precisely who should get the credit for it, the stage director or the film director… whatever. This particular stage production was a famous one at the time on account of its extreme minimalism; basically, Nunn put everything on a smallish round stage with almost no props, no sets, and not much in the way of costumes either. I don’t know what it was like in the theatre (I was slightly young and in the wrong country at the time), but the result on TV at least is a kind of intimacy bordering upon claustrophobia. And it seems to drain even further the colour from the production; with everyone wearing black, grey, white, etc clothes, all of them are lit to look pale-faced. I did find, however, it did require some familiarity with the play text thanks to the delivery of some of the actors; I found David Howey (one of the murderers as well as the sergeant in Act I) in particular near impenetrable at times through that broad Scots accent (and I say that as someone of Scottish extraction who has a lot fewer difficulties with the accent than some do), but quite a few others wanted clarity on quite a few occasions. Ultimately I have to say it wound up becoming quite tedious the longer it went on, interesting historically as a record of a particular production but not hugely exciting to actually watch.

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