Equivocation, here we come

d'Lëtzebuerger Land vom 05.07.2001

Bourglinster, 2 July, 7.30 pm. The audience is patiently waiting in front of a small stage. At the back, the silhouette of the castle, to the left and right the reassuring though somewhat surreal presence of Luxembourg and European flags flying in the wind… This was the setting for the TNT Theatre Britain open-air production of Macbeth, the one Shakespeare play our literature students sweat over year after year. It is also one of the complex texts teachers never tire of.

The modesty of the stage suggests that it is not going to be a lavish show. A cast of six actors will play the different parts; the text itself has been radically cut in places. But what felt like a rather laborious amateur production at first soon picked up in terms of rhythm and transported you back to Shakespearean horrors and heights. "The life of a theatre," says Richard Eyre, the famous English director, "should always be in the present tense." And Paul Stebbings, the director of Monday's production, has clearly read the text anew and added his own touches to it. 

Thus, King Duncan, who is usually understood to have been so good as to be morally blind and naively trustful, is literally blind here. He certainly looks too young, but then the same actor has to be the Porter or a Witch a few minutes later! The fact that one of the Weird Sisters is played by a male actor echoes the ambiguous nature of these supernatural agents. And though in the opening scene their "fair is foul" riddle does not come across as the frightening ambivalent message it should be, it is cleverly used as a chant at the very end of the play when King Duncan's son Malcolm is crowned as Macbeth's successor. The witches are present, indicating that Scotland will not turn from a hellish country wrecked by its tyrant ruler into heaven. Evil is bound never to go away!

But then, why does Duncan only have one son? And, above all, why are we not shown the murders of Macduff's family? Macbeth's readiness to kill pure innocence proves how hopelessly depraved he has become and offers crucial clues about his moral degradation. Some of the fighting or martial dancing looked too tame and choreographed to reflect the violence this society was mired in; Macbeth (Bruno Roubicek), who is rewarded for winning the battle against the Norwegians, looks like a young Christian (!) when a big wooden cross is hung around his neck. At first he seems to be merely puzzled rather than "rapt withal" when facing the Weird Sisters, but once he dismisses the whole court before the banquet, he gradually starts living up to the violence of Shakespeare's language.

Meanwhile, in spite of her hippy look, Lady Macbeth (Jody Machin) comes across as wilful and determined right from the start. Slapping her husband's face became part of the strategy deployed by one of literature's greatest graspers of opportunity.

The bawdy humour of the Porter scene was exploited to the full and got hearty laughs from the audience, yet another proof that Shakespeare is much more than a dry high-brow classic! As in the "Witch scenes" the very physical acting was what people responded to most. I also liked the way Banquo literally stands over Macbeth when the latter looks into a mirror and sees an endless line of his friend's descendants as future kings of Scotland. The "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow" speech is movingly interrupted when Macbeth puts down his sword and walks across the stage to kiss his dead wife; some sense of their former intimacy is thus recreated, but only for a second as news about Birnam wood approaching the tyrant's castle cuts his farewell short. 

So, though Macbeth never became the baroque hero who is too great to be King, the production succeeded in enthralling the audience. As soon as the standing ovation ended, blood and gore made room once more for the clean picture-postcard look of a typical Luxembourg tourist attraction. Those who want to see more of "the Scottish play" should contact the box-office of London's Globe Theatre since they will be staging Macbeth throughout the summer.


Janine Goedert
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