Most people celebrate their birthday with a night out, or at least a cake. I chose to spend mine in a tower block in east London. Why? To experience RIFT’s Macbeth, of course. I did try to get some of my friends to come with me, but they weren’t having any of it, so I shrugged my shoulders and booked anyway.
RIFT impressed with their attention to detail even before the night of the show. I received a “passport” in the post, which I had to fill in before I arrived. Sadly I wasn’t particularly adventurous when filling in my details – I wish I’d gone a bit wild! On arrival at the Balfron Tower – a landmark of modernism built by Erno Goldfinger – we had to go through “passport control”, where the border guards of the fictional Eastern European state of Borduria checked our documents and took away our luggage to be placed in our rooms. This took place outside, in the shadow of the somewhat forbidding building.
Once this was done, it was straight into the play, which took place in fits and starts over the next four hours or so. We got into the building via the basement car park, where we encountered the witches and witnessed their encounter with Macbeth – an atmospheric scene-setter. After going up several floors in the lift, we were taken to the Macbeths’ apartment, which was to be our base for the evening.
The performance must have taken a great deal of organisation, as everything flowed seamlessly. Characters came in and out, delivered speeches and made conversations, as if we were flies on the wall. Throughout the evening we were taken to different parts of the building in order to witness different scenes.For instance we were in the bar when Macbeth returned to greet his wife, and we were sitting down to eat our (rather tasty) meal when the couple entered and the scene turned into the famous one with Banquo’s ghost. I have never attended a performance that felt so immediate, so much as though I was a part of it.
There was a brief interlude of excitement when we entered an area which seemed to be full of characters from a Dostoyevsky novel. However these were the characters acting out the murder of Duncan. The tone of this section was fairly bizarre.
Towards the end of the evening, as the play drew to its macabre conclusion, we spent a lot of time in the TV room watching rolling news. Some reviewers have criticised this for being too static and dull, however I personally thought it was very effective at conveying what it might have been like to be in a castle under siege, waiting for (and in our case watching) the soldiers approach. As they burst into our room, we were taken prisoner, and were made to march upstairs and onto the roof, where we witnessed the final showdown between Macbeth and Macduff.
I absolutely loved the experience – the four hours flew by. It would be easy to dismiss this production as gimmicky, but RIFT have clearly thought about the quality of the production itself as well as the whole experience. The acting was superb throughout, particularly from Humphrey Hardwicke (Macbeth) and Lowri James (Lady Macbeth). The supporting roles were also well-cast, with each actor giving their all, whether they were playing a character in Macbeth or one of the officials from Borduria.
My only criticism is that I think more could have been made of the overnight experience – we weren’t able to witness Macduff’s coronation on the roof of the building as it had rained overnight, so there was really no reason for us to stay over. Having said that, I don’t regret the experience for a second. It was extremely memorable, I met some great people, and enjoyed one of the most unique Shakespearean productions I’m ever likely to witness.