1979 | On Macbeth

From a broadside published to accompany the 1979 RSC/Thames TV production

The 1606 production by the King's Men was early in the reign of their patron James I of England - not only VI of Scotland and descendant of Banquo but also author of a treatise against witches. We can now only guess how authentic was the Globe Theatre's Scottishness of scenery and accent or how spell-binding its magic. In 1923, Frank Benson's production had fourteen separate sets of scenery.

Generations of Macbeths have worn the kilt and the most convincing I have seen, Paul Rogers, was accompanied across the Cut at the Old Vic, by a piper. How in these days of the naturalism of cinema and television can audiences be encouraged to hear clearly Shakespeare's words and thereby to reach deep into the play's complexities? Well, in this production, quite simply - we've afforded no scenery at all, and you sit close to the stage and the words. At his first words - "So foul and fair a day I have not seen', the young victorious commander suggests an imagination receptive to ambiguities, a mind self-aware, an objectivity later revealed in a sense of humour of punnings and half- jokes.

At the height of his passions, Macbeth can distance himself from himself, even to the extent of embodying his desires in three-dimensional visions. He learns all too expertly to disguise his false heart with fairest show like an actor playing painfully a series of parts, first Glanus, then Cawdor then the starring role of Kingship. The metaphor of performer is at the heart of his reaction to his wife's death — die fool, the poor player strutting on the stage. There could be no more appropriate stage for these complex passions of the player king than a bare circle which can be Scotland, a blasted heath, Dunsinane Castle, a banqueting hall, an attic or a man's mind.

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