Double, double toil and trouble

What: Macbeth
When: 25th May 2011

Where: The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon

Directors 2 Writer 0

In thirty years of watching Shakespeare – mostly here in its Stratford home – I’ve often seen Macbeth lose his wits but never his witches………. but it seems that in this first season in its new home there is a first time for everything for the Royal Shakespeare Company.

As you may have heard, director Michael Boyd replaces Shakespeare’s witches with children. Now follow this closely, Boyd doesn’t depict the witches with child actors. He replaces them. The former would not be problematic for this reviewer. The latter is. The psychological conundrum and mystery that this places at the heart of this dark play is no small thing, an admirable puzzle and even leave us wrestling with what this means as we leave the theatre. But the fact that in order to do this Mr Boyd has had to eliminate at least four scenes that I could think of from the play (there may be more) is.

The children are children albeit dead ones and therefore they have no need of plotting, incantations and the like and therefore all of these are simply erased from the play. Scenes are re-ordered, new characters created, lines placed in drastically different mouths than they were written for.

When I was but a schoolboy, I was told that the themes in Shakespeare’s plays numbered so many that we should have no trouble filling a ream of paper as we wrote of them in our “O” level examinations (careful, Darren, your age is showing). But in this Spring season at Stratford both plays so far presented – Merchant of Venice and Macbeth – have had themes added to them with heavy-handed wallpaper, brush and paste. What can this mean? Are the English, in this bookish generation, so over-familiar with those matters at the heart of Shakespeare that they are unable to tolerate seeing the notions that are actually to be found in the play presented just one more time…….

So this Spring whilst in The Merchant, Elvis Presley is (almost) added to the cast list, here in Macbeth, the witches are gone, Lennox is banished but not to England,  and Seyton and the Porter are blended in a most unnatural way.

In matters of dress, directors always hold sway. In removing peripheral characters because of the size of the company, directors necessarily carry the day. In all that is visual the director’s silent voice should be heard loud. But in taking a hacking sword to the script…….. When is Shakespeare not Shakespeare? When should the word “adaptation” be seen on posters and publicity?

It may be a sad day in Stratford when all the scenes that Shakespeare wrote for a play are not required to be presented on one night and the reason is something other than an unwieldy length of performance but Leiber and Stoller and Presley’s other writers are given many outings on the other. But the directors know best.

2 thoughts on “Double, double toil and trouble

  1. Pingback: Shakespeare Reviews | twilightdawning

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