Wednesday, 27 April 2011
Aside: I should ask myself seriously at some point why that is. After all it was written for The Globe which probably took an audience of three thousand. But that's a discussion for another day.
To come back to Boyd's production. What has me particularly intrigued is that apparently he is only playing the Shakespeare text and that is a very bold move indeed.
You do realise, don't you, that Macbeth as we know it (I am trying very hard to avoid the Star Trek joke here, especially with Patrick Stewart in the company this season) is only partially by Shakespeare. What we have is almost certainly a version for the stage cut and embellished by Thomas Middleton. If you decide to play only the Shakespearian bits then you lose not only the Porter, but also the Witches and Hecate too. For some people I know that means the very bits that wake them up.
These passages are, however, parts of the Folio text that can be very hard to bring off. Antony Sher and Greg Doran in their book Woza Shakespeare make the point that in a society that has no real concept of witches in a way which has an immediate, daily impact, it is almost impossible to invest the characters with the terror that they would have inspired in an audience that believed implicitly in the potency of such figures. Too often, in the modern British theatre, they simply get the production off to a bad start by being laughed at. The Porter normally fares better because by that stage in the play you're desperate for anything that offers a bit of light relief. But, how do you give him the relevance that he had at the time? His speech is a bit like Koko's 'little list' in The Mikado. If you want it to have the effect it had when it was first produced, you have to update the references. Most productions would change the script at this point, although I've never before come across a director bold enough to cut the scene completely.
I have to say that this has me really itching to see this production. However, I do have a caveat. Will it hold together now? I suspect, and of course I have no way of knowing, that we have lost a good deal of what Shakespeare actually wrote when he first put quill to parchment over Macbeth. Think how short it is compared to the other tragedies. I've seen an almost uncut version played without an interval in little over two and a half hours. Try doing that with Othello or Hamlet. We only have the Folio version of Macbeth. There are no Quartos published before the 'official' 1623 First Folio. In other words, we don't have the original Shakespeare Macbeth, only the version 'prepared' by Middleton for a stage that expected a play to be around the two hour mark. Now, Middleton knew his job. He has given us a script that works. He was, after all, a damn good playwright himself. But if you start to adapt an adaptation are you going to be left with a text that has an inner coherence?
Well, time will tell. I'm seeing the production within the next couple of weeks and you can be sure I will have something to say about it. I hope it will be good.