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An immersion in live evil

Macbeth by William Shakespeare, Church of St Andrew the Great, St Andrew Street, Cambridge. Timothy Ramsden sees Shakespeare's Scottish drama explored on stage and off. I upset the moral order of things. The Year 10 class at St Ivo School were bunched in the middle of the room, a morally neutral zone. From either end came the clarion call of virtue or the siren voice of evil. Slowly the many responded.

The drift to good was winning. Then I handed Pounds 30 to the voice of evil. Lemmings would have stood no chance in the rush. A few, mainly female, lingered on the side of right. Evil then offered Brad Pitt waiting in the wings. Wrong won hands down.

So it should. Apart from the visible inducement of my hard-earned cash, there were the arguments of actor Mark Blythe, who should know about giving way to evil, for he had spent the morning playing Macbeth. It's all part of Classworks' "Macbeth immersion day", on which there's no rest for the wicked, or virtuous for that matter; after a full production (of which more in a moment) the cast, director Jenny Culank and any other Classworks member around take workshop sessions.

It is a programme designed for key stages 3 and 4 or beyond, and whatever the reservations about the show, Classworks offers a big event that is likely to stick in young minds for a time ahead.

Alongside the session on goodevil in Macbeth, Sue Birch (the production's lone Witch) had a group weaving knotty patterns of themselves and looking at the role of the witches. Lady Macbeth looked at persuasions, and there was Jenny Culank encouraging a group to relate language and space, while a separate group looked at rhythm in the play's language.

A group of St Ivo students, casting off their evil personas after Mark Blythe's workshop, spoke of the value of working outside their regular class groupings. They agreed both the performance and their own work had helped them see Macbeth - and Macbeth - in much more depth. Seeing the play had made them feel for the characters as people rather than concepts on a page; working on temptation had helped in understanding Macbeth's predicament. A lone voice felt less sympathy for him, having understood the choices available. So there is a healthy discussion got going.

You cannot, of course, properly do Macbeth with seven actors, not if you want to tell the tale plain and not produce the sort of concept production that relies on prior knowledge.

For much of act one, staging seemed the wrong word as we stared at a huge empty corridor traverse stage while action went on behind the blocks of audience. Too often we had proscenium blocking on an open stage, and too often a stately, unvaried pace which descended for moments to little more than a costumed recital.

Yet there were insights. The Witch rising from under a pile of bodies created in the opening symbolic battle, making human evil the source of all ill, and the anxious looks of Lady Macbeth (Vanessa O'Neill, sophisticated of feature yet doubling as an innocent-faced Macduff child) as her husband burbles on the morning after the murder.

Nevertheless, this Macbeth is clearly spoken and accessible. With the workshops on top it makes for a great day in.

Macbeth, performed by Classworks Theatre in Education, can be seen at the Church of St Andrew the Great, St Andrew Street, Cambridge today (Friday) and also June 27, 29 and 30, at 8pm. For tickets telephone 01223 352001 Classworks' Macbeth can be booked for the autumn term, with optional workshops. Contact: 01223 518176

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