From the moment I opened the program for Nash Theatre’s production of Macbeth, it was obvious a lot of thought had gone into the play.
A brief analysis of the contradictions between the play and historical reality, a quick mention of the way Shakespeare servilely boosted the family myth of the new King James I of England, and a discussion of the way accusations of “witch” were used to kill off unwanted women graced the inside cover. It was clear I was in the presence of a knowledgeable, passionate director.
Director Brenda White had a clear vision from the very opening scene with the three witches. Clad in purple cloaks which matched the colours of the scenery, they were deliberately eroticised, making clear the fear of female sexuality which drove much anti-witch hysteria in Shakespeare’s time. Their accents and characterisations were over the top for my taste, but I’m a fan of the matter-of-fact witches in Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters, so you might think differently.
Soon we met Macbeth and Banquo. Macbeth’s arrogant yet nervy nature was well brought out by Dan Lane as he met the witches who prophesied he would would soon be raised to the titles of Thane of Cawdor, and King of Scotland. When the first prophecy is fulfilled immediately, we see the fear that will eventually bring about Macbeth’s demise.
Rebecca Roebuck-Malone, as Lady Macbeth, dresses in a cloak of the same stuff as the witches’ cloaks, visually linking her ambition to the evil of the witches’ feminine wiles. And as Macbeth tells her of the witches’ prophecy she’s excited, kissing and nuzzling her husband passionately. Even though she famously begs that her feminine weakness be taken from her so that her ambition can be fulfilled, the hatred and fear of women common in Shakespeare’s time spills over, wonderfully drawn out by the director.
The relationship between Lady Macbeth and her husband dominates the play. He’s almost too cowardly to murder King Duncan and seize the crown, but he wants to be king. She holds him together with emotional blackmail, while behind his back she is just as afraid as he is of the consequences of their king-killing. And he knows, when he starts to hallucinate daggers in the air, that he’ll have to hide his fear from his wife forever, if he wants to avoid her scorn.
The other actor who really conquers his part is David Law as Macduff. He, along with Lane and Roebuck-Malone seem to have buried themselves in their parts long enough and well enough to feel their characters from the inside. In a play with language so unnatural to our modern ears, this is crucial if the actors are not going to sound like they are merely reciting their lines.
It also means that they are able to be their characters, to adjust their personalities so that they project the impression of a coward who wants it all, an ambitious “unnatural” woman, and a not-very-bright noble, full of righteous rage at the overturning of the natural order of authority.