So, we got tickets to Macbeth (at the last minute, of course – keep your options open, it’s the only way to travel), and ventured in to view the RSC’s brand spankin’ new remodel of their theater.
In theory, the remodel is a nice idea – it replaces a 1930s era proscenium stage with a thrust stage that brings the actors out closer to the audience. I like thrust stages, but I'm also an instinctive conservative who would feel sad if practically anything built anywhere in the whole world were to be demolished. However, I always try to quash these unreasonable feelings, and despite reading about some rumblings of controversy about the remodel, I went to the show prepared to be pleased with everything. My first inkling, however, that there might be some rough edges with this here remodel, that it might need a little fine tuning, came when I visited the ladies' restroom. Now, I’m not going to list every little thing that was wrong (I have some sense of propriety!), but suffice it to say that the design of the room had some things wrong with it. It didn’t have that coherence and attention to detail that well-designed spaces have. And anyone who has ever seen the lines outside the ladies’ restroom at any concert, play or performance knows that the ladies’ restroom is IMPORTANT.
Well, but what about the even more important room – the actual theater? Some signs of trouble there too, I’m afraid, starting with MY SEAT. The ticket seller lady had shown me a fancy book with pictures of the view of the stage from every seat in the theater – but the only reason that this was necessary is because many of the seats are “restricted view” of the stage, ie there’s a great big pillar right in front of your face. Seems like a bit of a problem to me, especially once I actually sat there (in the back row of one of the balconies, I forget which one) and there was not only a pillar, but also a weird roof sloping down very low so that I could not see most of the tall set. AND there were stage lights mounted on the little sloping roof that drooped down even farther so that at times I couldn’t see even the PEOPLE acting on or in front of the tall set. I haven’t mentioned yet that my seat was this rather tall stool that you had to sort of launch yourself up into by a running leap (only a slight exaggeration).
Now, all this did not bother me too much, because as previously mentioned, I had bought my ticket at close to the last minute for not that many pounds; being somewhat impecunious, I humbly accepted that to actually be able to see the stage would be too much to hope for. And as I am young and lissome, minor athletics in the theatre, such as jumping up to perch on a high stool, there to bounce for the duration of the show, are no great burden for me. NOT SO for the couple sitting to my left. Older, British, and somewhat stout, they had no sooner entered the theatre and stared and look'd (like Cortez) upon their seats with a wild surmise, that they began unceasingly to breathe imprecations against the RSC, the theatre designer, and all and sundry who might have had a hand in remodeling the theatre in such a way that they had to clamber up and sit in high chairs in order to watch their beloved Shakespeare shows in Stratford. A snatch of their conversation, overheard and surreptitiously copied down by yours truly:
Older British Fellow (indignantly) “They’ve simply destroyed it! An absolute b----y mess.”
American Student in Next Seat (timidly): “I heard that they’ve only just finished renovating it –“
Old. Brit. Fellow (interrupting): “They haven’t renovated it, they’ve destroyed it. It really used to be a comfortable, beautiful theatre!”
His Wife (plaintively): “ It’s hard for people our age…”
Old. Brit. Fellow: “Well, they just want you to be uncomfortable whilst watching Shakespeare!”
I take no sides as to the truth of this latter statement, dear reader. I simply report what I see and hear.OK, so perhaps none of this seems as though it has much bearing on the quality of the RSC production of Macbeth…but in a way it really does. Find out in the next and final installment of our series!!