Every One by The Royal Lyceum Theatre Company

So much that excites in theatre and cinema is ultimately down to the writing and Mark Thomson has mounted (and brilliantly directed) a show that is, in parts, written with such skill and sophistication, and humour, that it takes the breath away.  However, at others it seems to go AWOL.

The first act of this new play, written by Jo Clifford, is very convincing, moving and utterly absorbing.  It is staged imaginatively and it’s all going in the right direction.  In act 2, however, the show seems to hit choppy creative waters as it steps up its ambition.  But it left me, and my wife, confused.

It’s about death.  Full frontal, no holds barred death.  The great universal.  If we all die let’s not pussyfoot about the issue, let’s just play it straight and that’s exactly how Clifford tackles the subject.

A 50 year old wife and mother suffers a massive stroke and dies soon thereafter.  How it affects her nearest and dearest is one aspect of the show but the greater one (and a less often visited side of the equation) is how it affects the cadaver.  And that makes for great theatre in act one as we build the back story (often hilariously) and reach the momento mori.

The cast is led by the peerless and stunning Kath Howden and ably supported by her “late” husband Jonathon Hackett and death himself in the guise of Liam Brennan.  But they get most of the great lines and all of the power plays.  Less satisfactory for me were the parts for the son and daughter and trickiest of all is the role in the play of the family matriarch, Howden’s mother, who is suffering from senility.  Her part takes us down the most confusing plot alleyways and do not, in my view, always help the narrative.  What I expected was to see Act 2 focus more on grief, instead it becomes more and more obtuse, before coming together in a satisfying climax.

The staging is magnificent.  Philip Pinsky, yet again, pops in with musical magic. ( The point of death being captured in a single electrifying piano chord; once in each act.) And the whole is, overall, very satisfying.  I just wish act 2 had a bit more narrative conviction and storytelling.

Should you go?  You bet.

Macbeth by The Royal Lyceum Theatre Company (in conjunction with Nottingham Playhouse)

If you’ve been thinking of going to see this but haven’t quite got round to it you better get your finger out because it ends on Saturday.

And extracting the digit would be a very good idea.

I approached this with no real qualifications and indeed comment on it as a Shakespearean no mark.  I have not studied even a page of Shakespeare in my life.  I don’t understand the politics (and boy there’s plenty here) the language, the context or the history.  Apart from that I am scholarly.

So Joyce Macmillan’s two star review in The Scotsman alarmed me.  What was I letting myself in for?

I’ll tell you what.  A bloody good night’s entertainment (with the emphasis on bloody).

The staging was magnificent, the lighting, sound design and music; all terrific.

The acting was top notch.  Liam Brennan as Macbeth looks like he’s put his heart, soul and every ounce of his being into this role.  He looks and sounds exhausted, but that’s because his passion for the part and command of the stage and the role are quite remarkable.  Allison McKenzie, as his complicent wife (complicent in the lust for power that is) belies the fact that she has made her name in River City – a soap that I have thankfully managed to avoid totally, and Jimmy Chisholm in a number of roles is great; particularly in the one comedy scene as the drunken Porter in which he brought the house down.

It’s an intense and very involving theatrical experience and hugely rewarding.

In recalling MacMillan’s review the thing that stood out was her dismissal of the period setting (is modern necessarily good I ask myself?) and her strong criticism of the role of the witches which she, from memory, saw as overly indulgent, overpowering and ham fisted.  Me? I thought they were an imaginative and thrilling part of the whole.

Please see it if you have the chance.

It brought back memories of my one and only Shakespearean involvement, in the chorus of Verdi’s Macbeth by Edinburgh Grand Opera in the late 80’s.  Another superb production featuring one of opera’s least talented practitioners.  Moi.  But boy did I enjoy it.

So that’s two Macbeth’s and two stonkers.  I am lucky indeed.