Not since the RSC’s seminal 1987 production has a troupe cut so quickly to the core of my being – as any Oxford dramatist knows, I was conceived under the auspices of that production, and I have always felt a strong, almost carnal connection with that bastion of the Bardian wit and intellect, The Scottish Play. My earliest memory is of my mother, a pillar of strength and passion, reciting Act I Scene V to her newly-born successor as she stroked my soft newborn cranium. From that moment forth, that cranium would begin to knit into a mesh of intertextuality and become a turbulent reservoir for the reverence of Shakespeare.
Upon entering the Michael O’Taylor Garden Studio, I was greeted by an overwhelming atmosphere of polished professionalism. The vaguest hint of perspiration tantalised my open nostrils as I made my way from the entrance to my seat. No doubt the actors had, like stallions galloping along Port Meadow, been wildly rehearsing their opening night’s performance.
As I sat down I was struck by the statement expressed in the bold seating arrangements – the seats were black. The black was stark; poignant; unnerving. Olivia Cartwright was immaculately poised as Lady M, demonstrating an uncanny self-control given the circumstances. My seat was warm, but my balls were blue. Her tongue lacerates like an electric eel, but one feels as if Ms. Cartwright is playing to her strengths. She was joined on the stage by James Gilman, playing the small but – and I simply don’t have the vocabulary to emphasise this enough – pivotal role of Seyton. James has been cruelly snubbed by other reviewers, so I feel it is my duty to point out that he stole the show, absolutely and totally, and everyone should go see him in St Hilda’s radical gender-swapped The Vagina Monologues in seventh. I for one will be buying a ticket – priced at the reasonable £5 for students and available online.
Carter Rucke, who dropped out of the aforementioned production to dedicate himself to the role of MacDuff, was so-so, hardly an heroic figure opposite Gilman. Perhaps he would have been better suited to the eponymous protagonist, the backstabbing tyrant. His delivery is sodden with pretension; it has no place within the Bard’s macabre masterpiece. However, Ben Vincent was the image of humble nobility as Banquo, achieving a completely transformative character. For his ghost scene, he is able to recall with Satanic force, a devious smirk, as if he had just brought home a red-trousered sod and left him in your honorable reviewer’s bed. His performance is a hotbed of refinement and brutality – animalistic, compelling, crafted.
Ultimately, this production fails to use its generally competent cast to put on The Bard’s Play. It fails to bring out those subtler themes, known only to those who truly consider the text as pure ‘theatre’ or, at least, as close to theatre as humanity can grasp. For that reason, and that reason alone, I must give it one star, a far off glimmer of hope in a sky made of leaves.
* (1 Star)