At Z Movies

Macbeth is Coming…Back!

Indira Varma and Ralph Fiennes in Macbeth. Ralph Fiennes is pure poetry in tortured dramatic motion. (Photo: Marc Brenner, from the Edinburgh production)

Alexandria, VA – If you are still in the depths of despair from having missed the DC debut of Ralph Fiennes as Macbeth during the Shakespeare Theater Company run, you aren’t alone. Before you start a support group, there’s great news: They FILMED it!

Seats for the DC staging, if you could find an open seat (least of all two), sold up to $500 from the theater. Subscribers had first dibs. Eventually, additional tickets were released with Today Tix providing discounted seats, although they proved to be elusive as well.

The DC production regrettably closed on May 5. Macbeth was staged not at Harman Hall but in a former soundstage on W Street, NE. The other Macbeth venues were also held at untraditional custom-built spaces in London, Liverpool, and Edinburgh. The 40,000 square feet of theater space in DC allowed for a more dynamic, immersive theater experience.

Last month, following closing, the screen adaptation by Emily Burns was shown at the main Shakespeare Theater on F Street. Directed by STC’s own Artistic Director Simon Godwin, this Macbeth upstaged all others – and I’ve seen all four productions by the STC. Front-row seating adjacent to the stage was a transportive experience. Viewing it at stage level in the STC home theater was at once a theatric and cinematic thrill.

The almost IMAX-size screen rendered Ralph Fiennes and Indira Varma (Macbeth and Lady Macbeth) larger than life. Fiennes is a veteran award-winning Shakespearean thespian. He has performed in Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, Hamlet, Love’s Labour Lost, King John, King Lear, Much Ado About Nothing, Richard II, Richard III, and Troilus and Cressida. Starring as Hamlet on Broadway, he won the Tony in 1995.

Varma is an Olivier award-winning actress who previously starred in Titus Andronicus at the Globe Theater in London. She is best known for her work in Game of Thrones, playing the ill-fated Ellaria Sand, paramour of Prince Overton Martell. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown for both the Queen of Dorne and Lady Macbeth. Unlike Ellaria, Lady Macbeth’s fate is well-known: her descent into internecine madness is the stuff of which tragedies are made — Bard 101.

Lucy Mangan, Danielle Flamanya, and Lola Shalam as the Three Witches, aka the weird sisters in this production, boil a wicked pot of bubbling toil and double trouble.. (Photo: Marc Brenner, from the Edinburgh production)

Ralph Fiennes is no newcomer to the screen, making his film debut in Spielberg’s 1993 Oscar-sweeping Schindler’s List. Fiennes portrayed the brutally savage Nazi commandant Amon Göth, for which he earned a 1994 Best Actor in a Supporting Role Oscar nomination. With 292 credit titles and counting in his filmography, Fiennes is an actor, producer, and director in demand.

At 62, Fiennes remains leading-man material. The real Macbeth, King of Scotland, died at around 51 or 52 in 1057. A decade age difference is lost in translation given Fiennes’ skillful metamorphosis as he evolves into the Thane of Cawdor. There are traces of Göth’s heinous homicidal inhumanity unfolding in this Macbeth.

Last year, reflecting upon the ruthless character he portrayed 30 years ago in Schindler’s List, Fiennes said, “I think there was a price to pay for this one. When you’re investigating behavior that negative so intensely for three months, you feel sort of peculiar because you might have, at moments, enjoyed it, and at the same time, you feel slightly soiled by it. It throws up all kinds of question marks, about acting, about human behavior, about how all of that is probably a lot closer to the surface than we like to think.”

As the movie poster touts, this iconic masterpiece by the Bard is a “full-voltage, visceral” Macbeth. Ralph Fiennes is pure poetry in tortured dramatic motion.

Varna’s poised performance is deftly crafted to seduce not only her husband, harangued mercilessly to murder, but also to appease her insatiable lust for power and the audience as well. Varna’s classic, cool beauty moves like a Grecian goddess carved from marble. The unraveling of both personifies a classic Greek tragedy

Indira Varma and Ralph Fiennes in Macbeth. Varna’s performance is deftly crafted to seduce her husband, harangued mercilessly to murder, and to appease her insatiable lust for power—and the audience as well. (Photo: Marc Brenner, from the Edinburgh production)

Speaking of a Greek chorus, the three witches in this production become the weird sisters, conjuring the diverting performance by Kate McKinnon as weird Barbie. Danielle Fiamanya, Lucy Mangan, and Lola Shalam command the stage, spewing their spells and delivering quirky yet compelling prognostications in performances so devilishly delicious they earned a standing ovation in London.

Leaving Harman Hall, one movie-goer was heard commenting, “Well, that was amazing! Almost as good as being there!” Her companion exclaimed, “No, it was better!”

And he didn’t mean the $15 versus $500 ticket pricing. The theater even displayed props and costumes from the DC stage production in the lobby. Selfie station queuing was tireless.

Rotten Tomatoes rated this film as 100 percent fresh with five stars. Look for it in theaters. Macbeth on film is stagecraft taken to the limit. The definitive performances by Ralph Fiennes and Indira Varna as Scotland’s most misanthropic married mishap will not soon be forgotten. It’s as haunting as our most unrelenting regrets.

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Kelly MacConomy

Kelly MacConomy is the Arts Editor for The Zebra Press.

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