By William Shakespeare
HOME & Lyric Hammersmith
HOME, 19 September 2018
A Shakespeare double-bill, two for the price of one: Manchester audiences can spot a good deal when they see it.
We got Othello in the first half of theatre. At the end of that play, Desdemona (Kirsten Foster) and her slain sisters arose from the pit, resuscitated, and got ready to give Macbeth a weird welcome in the second half.
Each play could, and in the first instance probably should, be appreciated in its own right. But it is interesting also to reflect on how they relate and refract upon one another – they have been brought together with that purpose after all, after all. So in that spirit, you’d have to say that the fusion was effective (momentarily, any roads) as a commentary on toxic masculinity. In one play you have Othello’s (Ery Nzaramba) jealous rages, in the other Macbeth’s (Sandy Grierson) cruel and murderous tyranny, and in both women are their victims. Desdemona is murdered, as is Lady MacDuff (here Melissa Johns’s performance was a highlight for me), her innocent cry that she had ‘done no harm’ failing to deter her killers.
Of course it is not quite as straightforward as that with Shakespeare, it never is. You could argue, for example, that Othello is a victim too, a victim of Iago’s malice: though isn’t he a little too easily persuaded of Desdemona’s infidelity? And Lady Macbeth (Caroline Faber) is the locus of evil intent in that play; and her complaint about her hubby is that he is too soft, has too much of ‘the milk of human kindness’ for his own good. And if the problem is men’s weakness, their frailty, then Macduff (Samuel Collings: another highlight for me), although a good man, is weak too. His response to grief is that he must ‘feel it as a man’ – and so he weeps.
What is clear is that you have outstanding performances of two of Shakespeare’s greatest plays, brought together in a highly thought-provoking manner, which allows you to see each one in a new light. And incidentally, the end of Macbeth segues back into Othello once again, like one side of a Mobius strip leading onto the other.
OthelloMacbeth is showing at HOME until 29 September. Details here.