No more heroes for Macbeth

20th February 1998 at 00:00
MacbethCitizens' Theatre, Glasgow. Until March 7. Macbeth is good news and bad + news. By tradition it is bad news for theatres, who only put on the "unlucky" + play because they are short of money. For schools, it is always good news; at + the last count, 92 per cent of school children study the play, and theatres + putting on "the Scottish play" can bank on school buses in the car park. More + good news for teachers taking parties to the Citizens' is that director Robert + David MacDonald has taken his scalpel to the text, added a handful of tiny + improvements of his own, and run the play straight through without an interval + in 97 minutes. Missing are the opening "war correspondent" passages, Lady + Macduff and much of the scene in England. Likewise the final battle is much + shortened, and every cut serves to throw the central character into greater + prominence. This is Gerard Murphy's second Citizens' Macbeth (the first in + 1979) and this time round he brings a middle-aged, battle-hardened and + careerist military leader, for whom "vaulting ambition" simply comes with the + territory. This is not a man whose mind could ever be "full of + scorpions".Rather his rhetorical style holds both the supernatural and the + personal at arm's length, and mocks the doubts and fears that might undermine + him. This "cool" style lies at the very centre of MacDonald's dispassionate, + humanist view of the play - a tragedy of "no more heroes" in a world without + spiritual dimension. The witches, for example, are three disinterested men, + played by actors who at other times are Ross and Angus, the three murderers, + the Doctor and others. Evil, MacDonald is saying, is not "out there" but in + ourselves, our envy and jealousy, fear and despair. Except, that is, for Lady + Macbeth. Anne Myatt delivers the traditional "fiend-like queen", utterly + humourless, monomaniac in her ambition and iron-hearted in her determination to+ persuade her husband to regicide. When she demurs from murdering Duncan + herself, on the grounds that he resembled her father when he was asleep, you + sense it was for her no more than an irritating coincidence. Even in the + sleep-walking scene, where you might see a broken woman and a mind diseased, + she seems to be suffering from a treatable sleep disorder. Lady Macbeth, you + feel, got no more than she deserved. Instead, the tragedy is of the common man,+ represented here by Brendan Hooper's Porter, in an increasingly dishevelled + dinner suit. What was for Shakespeare a comic interlude between Duncan's murder+ and its discovery is gently inflated by MacDonald into the running joke of a + comic drunken butler, undone by a bottle he steals from the banquet, who + thereafter seems to belong to another play or even music hall. It is in every + way a sobering epilogue that Malcolm's victorious rejoicing, accompanied by the+ jolly "Sports Report" band music, is counterpointed by the Porter cradling and+ mourning his own dead son. Much of Macbeth's enduring appeal is in the way it + blends "mist and mystery" with the most accurate observation of human + behaviour. This production is strong on "mistery", with Kenny Miller producing + a disorientating set of medieval stairways and spaceship doorways, with costume+ and lighting similarly ancient and modern. But even in this timeless setting,+ it is important that human nature is sharply observed, and that the precise + writing is respected. If Macbeth says the phantom dagger is drawing him in the + direction he was going, then it should. If Lady Macbeth is going "directly" to + bed, then she ought not to be heading for the guest bedroom.

Subscribe to get access to the content on this page.

If you are already a Tes/ Tes Scotland subscriber please log in with your username or email address to get full access to our back issues, CPD library and membership plus page.

Not a subscriber? Find out more about our subscription offers.
Subscribe now
Existing subscriber?
Enter subscription number

Comments

The guide by your side – ensuring you are always up to date with the latest in education.

Get Tes magazine online and delivered to your door. Stay up to date with the latest research, teacher innovation and insight, plus classroom tips and techniques with a Tes magazine subscription.
With a Tes magazine subscription you get exclusive access to our CPD library. Including our New Teachers’ special for NQTS, Ed Tech, How to Get a Job, Trip Planner, Ed Biz Special and all Tes back issues.

Subscribe now