Kenneth Branagh Macbeth

I owe Kenneth Branagh a lot.  It was his films that made me fall head over heels in love with Shakespeare.  So much so that I was only a hair's breadth from accepting an invitation to pursue a postgraduate degree in Shakespeare studies at the University of Birmingham, England after getting my BA in English.  I went to DePaul University instead for English Lit, and always regretted my decision.  

But what's a Shakespeare-lovin', Branagh-smitten girl to do when he returns to perform Shakespeare on the stage for the first time in over a decade?  She goes to Manchester!

My husband, through Ninja-like cunning, obtained tickets for us to see 2 performances of Macbeth!  

Everything about the play was perfect.  The venue was St. Peter's - a small deconsecrated church.  I loved the choice of the play being performed in a church, where Macbeth's dark and brutal deeds were so beautifully juxtaposed against the surroundings of a church.  Where the center aisle of the church would have been they created the stage, with two tiers of raked, stadium style seating facing the stage on either side.  It only sat about 120 audience members per performance, so it was very intimate.  We were on the front row both nights, so there was a time or two when Kenneth Branagh was so close to me that I considered stroking his hair.  Maybe Macbeth would think that a kindly angel had taken pity on him?..   I was more afraid Branagh would bite my hand off, so I fought off the urge! 

The stage floor was mud that occasionally slopped up on those of us in the front row, not gratuitously so, but in the battle scenes especially it was inevitable.  I loved the idea of the mud.  It made the performances so visceral and gritty and enabled the audience to see (and feel!) the filth that Macbeth was wading through literally and figuratively.  I wore my mud splatters proudly back to the hotel each night.  

Macbeth Manchester Kenneth Branagh


As for the acting.  What can I say?  There's a reason that Branagh made me love Shakespeare.  He breathes life into ancient words that can feel so foreign today.  But the emotion that is expressed with those words...  Shakespeare was a master at expressing emotions, and when properly acted, few things can be more powerful, or I dare say relevant, than Shakespeare.  Yes, I was very well acquainted with Macbeth beforehand and yes, I did cry the same times during both performances - when Macduff discovers his wife and children were slaughtered and when Macbeth hears that his wife took her own life.  Ray Fearon and Kenneth Branagh, respectively, made us feel the shock and the heartache.  It was beautiful, subtle, heart-felt acting at its finest.  I also had the opportunity to meet one of the actors, Norman Bowman, who played Ross, after the show.  He was a standout to me as well.

Alex Kingston Lady Macbeth Manchester

And I can't forget Alex Kingston, who played Lady Macbeth.  Here I am getting her autograph.  I never found Kenneth Branagh.  I heard rumor that he was "beamed up" after every performance!

It was well worth the trip for me.  It was one of those moments in life that remind you of the passions of your youth and not to abandon them.  l've been listening to sonnets ever since I returned home.

I'm sorry Shakespeare.  I'll try to visit more often.  

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