NOVEMBER 2007  
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The last week of Rupert Goold's wondrous production of Macbeth at the Gielgud Theatre. Tongues had been wagging ever since the news of Patrick Stewart's absence from the production because of laryngitis. Past the rank of patient hopefuls eagerly awaiting any 'returns'. Past the bow-tied front-of-house staff who now act as interval guards, ferreting furtive smokers into Soho alleys to stock up on nicotine. Past the Box Office. A sly glance, only a sign to warn of flashing lights and gunshots; not a mention of illness or an understudy. There we are, lights down, deafening sound effects up, and Stewart struts his excellent stuff. What a performance and what a production.

Kate Fleetwood as Lady M. is the scariest, sexiest thing I've ever seen. Of course, Stewart's voice sounds like he is having to work that much harder. The range, understandably limited, is still dynamic and exciting. Still, he would have been justified in asking the audience to quieten down and listen up. Never heard such a sorry bunch of auditors in all my life. Coughs and sneezes, apoplectic fits, a woman escapes from the centre of the stalls clutching her throat as the dagger appears before him.

Sometimes, it was actually possible to miss what was said on stage with the cacophony of cold-like symptoms in the house. Also, why is it that people feel more confident to clear their throats, rustle their sweet packets, and snort their sinuses whenever an actor is delivering dialogue? This fascinating insight into audience behaviour was demonstrated by that magical moment of drama when Michael Feast as Macduff is told that his wife and pretty ones are dead. Feast holds an agonized silence for what seems like a whole minute. There is not a noise, not a sniff or choke from the audience. Wonderful theatre. When Feast starts speaking again, back to the same dry rasping noises from punters who seem to have been escorted from a local A&E specializing in consumptive outpatients. Tuberculosis is alive and well and living in Shaftesbury Avenue.

Perhaps the NHS should set up surgeries in the foyers? Obviously the sick of London can think of no better cure than to take in a play. Perhaps the interval ice-creams should be replaced by cough linctus, a vapour rub, decongestant tablets? Patrick Stewart might have missed one performance; these inconsiderate theatregoers made me miss a lot of this performance as well. Worth it though. No better Macbeth or more innovative production could you ever wish to see.

Kevin Quarmby © 2007