We had decided that Manchester was really much more about the theatre than any other touristy sites so there was no rush to get up and hit the day running as there was every other day of the trip. So instead, we just languished. We enjoyed the comfort of the hotel room, sleeping until we wanted to wake up. It was glorious. We also took this opportunity to deal with travel details for the next few days. I had received a surprise but that will come in time.
So I’d gone down to the front desk to pick up some print outs and the girl working behind the counter asked me if I was a Doctor Who fan. See, of all the clothing I brought with me, the t-shirts either had a collar or a Doctor Who design. And this girl had spotted it easily. Naturally I said I was and she let me know that we happened to be in town during the annual Manchester Comic Con, going on today only. Since we didn’t have to be at the holding spot for the theatre until around 1:30 that afternoon, we thought this might be fun to check out. We got a map and directions from the girl (who, I’m sad to say, I didn’t get her name, but she did spark a conversation about the changing values of either the modern world in general or Manchester in specific because she had a very obviously pierced tongue in a fancy hotel. Yay for letting people be themselves!) and headed out to find our fellow geeks.
It wasn’t hard to discern we were getting close as the density of cosplayers increased. By the time we found the convention center, the crowds outside were huge (as was the line to get in, so we didn’t actually enter the hall) and the costumes were glorious. There were several examples of parenting done right, small kids having an absolute blast (one, quite literally as he tried to zap people with his power staff) and the adults were right there with them. The two person At-At (complete with mini Luke Skywalker dangling from the undercarriage) was a particular high point. But the absolute best thing I saw was a couple of Mancunian police officers strolling the crowd. When the passed by a group of Stargate Military personal, the male officer, in all mock
seriousness, exclaimed “I’m scared.” But that wasn’t his best move of the day. No, that was a few minutes later when we came across them again, only this time, the male officer was on his knees, hands on his head (he’d assumed the position) with a 3 member squad of Imperial
Stormtroopers pointing their blasters at him all while his female partner was recording the event on his cell phone. We could only imagine the assignment meeting that morning when this event came up and this officer’s inner dialogue was “don’t be too anxious!” while his voice softly said, “yeah, I suppose I could do that shift.” So cool to see local police geeking out like the rest of us.
By this point, we decided to head down to our rendezvous point. The way this particular production was working was under some pretty strict security protocols. Even when we had asked about it at the box office the day before, no one wanted to mention specifics. The deal was that the actual location (we knew it was an old church) was a secret and we were going to be sent an email giving us a location to meet and pick up our tickets and from there, we’d be walked to the actual location. We’d also been told this was NOT the production to which we should wear our Sunday best as we’d received an email earlier proclaiming “it’s possible that some of the audience may come in to contact with some of the materials used in the show.” Being Macbeth, we figured this might be blood, we had no idea what to expect at all.
So we got to the place, Murray’s Mill, which was an abandoned complex of brick buildings, and were told our tickets weren’t there yet, but there was a bar and we could make ourselves comfortable. We did. There was a nice waiting area, with a map of Macbeth’s Scotland drawn on the floor and it wasn’t long before the tickets were ready for collection and we were placed in the “Lennox” group, which was the 9th group to be taken over to the venue.
As we approached the door to the church venue, we could hear the actors vocalizing and getting ready… the excitement was building. No matter how hot it was (and inside, it was incredibly hot) we were ready for anything. Inside, the audience was lined up in stadium style pews on either side of a long nave, about 2 meters across. At one end, where the alter would have been, was a significant bank of candles and a woman in a robe praying over them. The other end was a large, blank wooden wall. In the middle, along the nave itself, the floor was covered with dirt. We sat and waited.
Soon, the lights went out and with an incredibly loud crash, three doors, previously unseen in the back wall, slammed open, revealing the three witches,, who started the play. A second later, Sir Kenneth came in, amongst a dozen or so other warriors, all dressed in kilts, fighting each other with long claymores and then… then it started to rain. Inside the church, the thunder crashed and water came pouring down and it rained, turning the dirt floor to mud. For the next two hours, that mud was stomped through, flung about, lain in and generally became part of the atmosphere. It wasn’t blood we had to be mindful of — it was mud.
The production itself was spectacular. This review calls it “one of the Scottish Play’s great revivals” and I can’t disagree. Branagh, who, at times, was no more than 3 or 4 feet away from us, was, as expected, brilliant. Alex Kingston was generally good at Lady M (her sleepwalking scene was a little labored) and the supporting cast all deserved their appointments. The witches were wonderful and creepy and Rob Ashford’s direction (he co-directed with Branagh) was clever and made incredible use of the space. The final performance (which happened at 7 that night) was filmed and live telecast to the festival center for those who couldn’t get tickets and will be broadcast in movie theatres as part of the
National Theatre Live program (it should show up in the US in October). If you get a chance to see it, I highly recommend you do.
After that, there wasn’t much to do. We were overcome. So we just wandered back towards the center of town, stopping in shops, passing a building which had been torched the day before and seeing some great SF graffiti. Then we hit thelocal mall for postcards, a fast food dinner (when you haven’t had it for a while, there really is something to be said for Taco Bell) and suitcase shopping. We made it an early night because, yet again, we had another early morning coming up.