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Macbeth - 1999

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Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
the way to dusty death.
Out, out brief candle! 
Life is but a walking shadow,
a poor player that struts and frets
his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more.
It is a tale told by an idiot,
full of sound and fury signifying nothing.
Macbeth, William Shakespeare - Act V  Scene V

The Queens Theatre
 3 March 1999 to 5 June 1999

Directed by John Crowley
designed by Jeremy Herbert
produced by Thelma Holt
co-produced by Karl Sydow

Cast included :
          Rufus Sewell,  Sally Dexter
Martin Marquez,  Simon Chandler,  Declan Conlon,  Billy Carter,   Robert Patterson,  Simon Meacock,  Robin McCaffrey, Polly Pritchett and Peter Bayliss as Porte

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The London Sunday Times

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7 March '99 The London Sunday Times
A worrier and a warrior:
Rufus Sewell plumbs the depths of Macbeth,
with Sally Dexter outstanding as his ambitious, but thwarted, wife. By JOHN PETER

Art not without ambition
...Rufus Sewell is 31, and the title role in Macbeth (Queen's) is only his second Shakespeare in the theatre, but he understands all this completely. Like many promising young actors of his generation he moved into films after a relatively small amount of theatre work, but he enters like one who knows the nature of the stage and how to dominate it. If a theatre star is somebody who is compellingly watchable, can suggest effortless power, dominates every space he is in and speaks with emotional intelligence, then Sewell is a star in the making.

...once Macbeth arrives, the atmosphere becomes charged with thunderous premonitions. He is young, but already a haunted man: the eyes suggest the inward tension of somebody who has been living with black, but still incoherent, thoughts. He may be valour's minion, but something is terrifying him and he doesn't know what it is. In battle, he carves strange images of death, and afterwards he sees them always.

...Sewell and his director, John Crowley, understand the crucial point about Macbeth, which is that he gains our sympathy through a specific weakness. As
a hulking military-meatloaf-turned-murderer he would be of no interest at all; as a prisoner of horrible imaginings, both mesmerised and repelled, he speaks to everybody who ever needed to make a moral choice. Sewell's Macbeth knows that he has much need of blessing because ambition and damnation already have him in their sights. Richard III gives a stupendous theatrical turn strutting gleefully towards hell; Macbeth speaks to your heart and soul because he fears and hesitates.

Sewell is one of the very few Macbeths I have seen (Ian McKellen, Iain Glen and Alan Howard are three others) who can convince you that he can both unseam a man from the nave to the chops (ie. stab him in the belly and then rip him in two with an upward cut of his sword) and still be full of the milk of human kindness. When he meets the witches, his haunted, troubled mind, combined with battle fatigue and the ghastly euphoria of the victor, make him
fall under their spell. They will marshal him the way he, without knowing it, is already going.

The play is so familiar that we tend to react to it with familiar-ity.  Sewell's performance alerts you to its power as a theatrical text. Shakespeare's greatest innovation was to use the soliloquy and the aside not simply as a character's ways of describing himself, presenting his state of mind, but as actual portrayals of his thought processes. Thinking, as we call it, is not verbal; but Shakespeare articulates and puts into words its movement and pressures,
its blind thrusts and treacherous slipstreams, with a clarity that carries both emotional and intellectual conviction. A mind fighting with itself as it moves forward, both marshalled and willing, is the most thrilling theatre there is.

It is also the stage actor's greatest challenge: he has no camera angles or sound engineers to help him. Observe Sewell as he returns to Macduff and the others after seeing King Duncan's body. Macbeth has little need to play-act now: he has just seen what he has done, and when he says that now there's nothing serious in mortality, he means it. The half of him that had recoiled from the murder now looks him in the face, like a corpse with its eyes open. And yet Sewell also suggests, by almost imperceptible means, that Macbeth knows he is being observed, that people are watching to see whether he is as innocent as he would like to be.

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Rufus and Ginny - June 1, 1999
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