Spotlight on the dark side

26th March 2004 at 00:00
Doubling of parts puts this Macbeth into focus, says Timothy Ramsden

Macbeth Mercury Theatre, Colchester

How many children Lady Macbeth had - the old question - is important for director Craig Bacon. He says that the child the Macbeths have lost leaves the couple "the happiest married couple in all Shakespeare", focusing on their self-interest. Whether Lady Macbeth would have treated the child as she claims is beside the point: its absence causes a sense of loss, need, and urgency in their lives and thus interdependence.

Lady Macbeth does not, believes Bacon, emasculate or badger her husband into murder. She encourages him, chastising only the elements that prevent him killing, in a society where kingship went by election till Duncan's surprise appointment of his son. It's as if royalty is the Macbeths'

birthright; they deserve it. Her return to the scene of Duncan's murder with the daggers is an act of love - to save the situation, not to humiliate her husband.

In this context, the Weird Sisters compare with the three Fates, seeing and telling what is, not able to influence events. Bacon has restored the Hecate scene, pointing out that it was played in Shakespeare's time, with music, as here. Having the interval after the Banquet scene otherwise means starting the second part with an "obscure political discussion" between Lords. With Hecate included, the two parts reflect each other - progressing from the "forces of Nature" to the Scottish nobility, followed by Macbeth's entrance.

Doubling of parts by actors emphasises a focus on light and dark. Duncan, the benign king, recurs as the hellgate-linked Porter, then as hellish Hecate - plus the servant bringing news of Birnam Wood's advance. The actors playing the Witches double as the Macbeths' servants then as the Doctor, Gentlewoman and Seyton. Though the groups will be colour co-ordinated, they're not intended to be the same characters; the aim is to surround Macbeth's demise with suggestions of "the instruments of darkness".

There is light and dark in all the major characters, though Bacon admits to finding little light in Lady Macbeth. Banquo has his dark longings after the Witches' promises, but with a son to consider he is less bound up in his own ambition. Malcolm, too, faces his dark side when telling Macduff what a terrible king he could be; he exaggerates, but rehearsals suggest this scene is stronger if Malcolm faces the prospect of how bad a ruler he might be. And Macduff has to face up to leaving his family: in killing Macbeth he is working out his own guilt, avenging his wife and children more than Scotland.

Until April 3. Tel: 01206 573948

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