CURTAIN’D SLEEP at Greenwich Theatre
Two Lady Macbeths, two Ophelias, a stage split into four quadrants of a circle each visible only to a quarter of the audience, the cast moving between those quadrants to act out their individual segments in turn, all four parts spoken simultaneously to the sound of looped recordings of soliloquies by Macbeth himself and prince Hamlet – Curtain’d Sleep at Greenwich Theatre should, frankly, have been a disaster.
But in fact it was a triumph, a properly original, beautifully acted and thought-provoking triumph. And theatre company Entita deserve nothing but praise for creating a work that gives two of Shakespeare’s greatest women the dignity of physical and emotional form as their lives run out rather than leaving them to die unseen and unheard in the wings.
What’s more, it was an inspired idea by co-directors Jamie Woods and Katharine Hardman to have two actors play each role because part of Shakespeare’s genius is to put an existential duality at the heart of both characters. It was equally inspired to have the cast combine dance and spoken word to put across that duality because it lifted the action into a fifth dimension which allowed hugely effective time-bending sequences such as the one in which a face flashed strobe-like between the pleasure of victory and the despair of implacable loss.
Will Aubrey-Jones’s clever in-the-round set and a fabulously evocative and repeating soundtrack by Seth Lakeman both echoed the cyclical nature of the piece and gave it an even more thrilling depth. But in the end it was the skill of the actors - Katharine Hardman and Jessie Knowles as Ophelia and Jennifer Geertsen and Francisca Stangel as Lady Macbeth – who made Curtain’d Sleep such a success, their performances perfectly navigating the terrifying darkness between the worlds of the rational and the insane.
The only part of the staging I really didn’t care for was the recording of the famous “full of sound and fury” soliloquy because it sounded anything but. That aside, this was a magnificent and magical production, an intellectually and artistically satisfying study that managed to enhance two of the greatest plays ever written. That’s a heck of an achievement.