I was surprised that so many people turned their backs on the brilliant sunshine on Friday lunchtime to spend an hour in a theatre. The Lyric was the theatre, ‘I Banquo’ was the one man show and the one man was actor Michael Patrick. And believe me, we were not disappointed.
Enter the darkened auditorium of the Naughton Studio, a table, a bucket and a corpse lying on the floor covered in a white sheet, only his bloodless arm exposed.
The wind is howling around us, the rain bounces off the roof and the lights go down. There’s a deafening crack of thunder and the dead man rises and the story begins.
A number of pupils from a local grammar school take up the first four rows and we take the seats above, a well filled house and there’s not a sound. Banquo greets us as if we’ve known each other for ever, in fact we take on the role of Macbeth at certain places as he goes through the happenings in Scotland during the reign of Duncan and the rise and rise of Macbeth. Banquo is Macbeth’s best friend and this is his story, his dreadful experience of evil, ambition and power. In the telling Banquo introduces us to various characters. They speak Shakespeare’s words, Macbeth himself, his scheming wife, King Duncan, the three witches and Macduff. Each scenario is heralded with what sounds like the distorted crack of a rifle shot, at times a bell tolls, voices fill the air and crowds cheer, suspiciously like an Scottish rugby crowd welcoming their team singing ‘Flower of Scotland’!
As the story unfolds, I certainly begin to understand Shakespeare’s famous tragedy as never before. The torment of Banquo as he watches Macbeth murder and plot and fulfill the predictions of the three witches. What, he asks, if those witches had spoken to him instead of Macbeth that night on the heath, he might have become King of Scotland, imagine he says how different the story would be – or would it?
This play throws questions out all over the place so it’s stimulating and thought provoking. It’s also a very bloody monologue, quite literally. The bucket contains entrails and blood and Banquo ends up a blood soaked ghost, murdered by his best friend.
It sounds very black but Michael Patrick, from Northern Ireland now based in London, is an experienced actor and a natural story teller, he invades the whole stage as he recounts what happened during those dark days, everyone including usually restless teenagers, were riveted by his performance.
Written by Tim Crouch and sensitively directed by Oisin Kearney this is an outstanding piece of theatre. The timing, the sound effects, the lighting all come together, sadly only for three performances, last Thursday evening, Friday matinee and evening performance. It’s such a pity because this is theatre at its best.
By Anne Hailes