Friday 15 June 2012

Mr. & Mrs. Macbeth – having a look…

There is no mystery key to unlock the characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Except to mimic the poet himself from the play @ I /iii /143 : “Come what come may / Time and the hour run through the roughest day.”

Violence, horror and mayhem you say ? Let us not forget that with Macbeth we are faced with a vicious warrior. He disembowels the rebel traitor Macdonwald, who was loyal to the Thane of Cawdor who led the charge to unseat King Duncan. Not only kills Macdonwald, he also beheads him and pikes the bleeding trophy in triumph. To reward him, Duncan bestows Macbeth with the title Thane of Cawdor after Cawdor is in turn hunted down and summarily executed for his treason – a slightly-too-obvious bit of irony and foreshadowing on BillyB’s part some might argue.

What is profound about Macbeth is Shakespeare’s intuitive sense, pre-Freud and pre-Jung by a few centuries. We are complex bodies. We have no children so we kill others’. We worship our wives; we kill others’ who adore theirs as much. We exalt our leaders, but kill them when they obstruct our greedy plans. We have heart. We have dinners with wine and mutton just like other mortals do. We breathe heavily while dancing horizontal. We feel and hurt. We loathe. We conspire against those who stand in our way. What most we do is we think. We think. We think. And when we think, we conjure demons – women with beards – who enflame and tumesce our frightful obsessive fantasies.

The wacko Macbeths lack two things, primarily. Insight into the personal devils loose in their brains and their bowels. And no governor on their base impulses, barely a half-wit of superego in their collective souls. The id and ego juices excited between them are fueled by testosterone and estrogen, shared hormones of horror. Any guilt they feel might be rational but is not visceral – borne of words, not guts or spirit. Still, whom the gods would destroy they first make mad.

A word or two about plot. Macbeth is also brilliant current events from the early 1600’s. It exploits the blow-up-Parliament-and-the-King conspiracy of 1605 that is known by the somewhat benign title of The Gunpowder Plot starring Guy Fawkes. (What will a mere 36 barrels of gunpowder under the House of Lords do but flatten Parliament and a square mile around it, too?)  So not quizzical that a preoccupation with regicide results along the Thames precisely when BB writes this script. Further to the history of the day, Macbeth references the Catholic/Anglican split between Scotland and England and disparages the closet Catholics of Albion who “equivocate” why they didn’t attend Anglican matins. Much made of this in the porter knocking scene. Not to forget for a second how suspicions and hatreds were the communion of the day – all in the spirit of Jesus Christ, of course.

In the end BillyB knew he’d penned a classic in Macbeth and he ran with it, furiously, which is part the reason it’s so punchy from Moment 1 and, unlike Shrew, so short and tight.  Also a potboiler that slavers up jealousy, rage, ambition, sex, revenge and good old-fashion personal guilt in a grisly but fascinating drama that is anything but melo.

The challenge for a director in 2012 is to give such despicable human impulses as the Macbeths’ a contemporary gestalt in which to make new sense, if that’s possible, not just the same-old hisses and shouts.

We shall see what Director Miles Potter hath wrought.


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