[History] [Macbeth for King James] [Photos 1] [Photos 2]

The Stevenage Lytton Players performed Macbeth at The Lytton Theatre Stevenage from Tuesday 23rd April 2002, until Saturday 27th April 2002.
 

THE SCOTTISH PLAY

The story goes that Macbeth was first performed before King James I at Hampton Court in 1606. No one knows for certain if that is true. The first record of a production was written by Samuel Forman, who described a performance he saw at the Globe Theatre on Bankside in 1611.

Since Shakespeare's time, Macbeth has been an ever-popular play. The diarist Samuel Pepys saw it at least three times in the 1600s and thought it was excellent. But like all of Shakespeare's plays, Macbeth has been re-written, revised and adapted through the centuries to meet the tastes and the social and political circumstances of different times.

Sir William Davenant (who claimed to be Shakespeare's illegitimate son) presented a radically changed version in 1672. Macbeth became a musical spectacular with the witches as a series of comic turns as they flew, danced and sang in ever increasing numbers. There was little hesitation about cutting, amending or added to the original version. Davenant cut the Porter and the Doctors, had Seyton change sides at the end and altered the language so as not to offend his audience of gentry. Scenes were added - Lady Macbeth and Lady Macduff talked together. Macduff's role was greatly enlarged at the expense of Malcolm's. The witches even turned up to support Macduff against Macbeth.

Although there were attempts to return to original version the operatic additions to Macbeth persisted. The 18th century actor David Garrick wrote a dying speech for Macbeth, expressing sorrow and self-condemnation. 19th century productions tried to depict medieval Scotland in what they thought were authentic sets and costumes. The on-stage castles in Macbeth matched the gothic mansions that the newly rich industrialists were building in the Scottish Highlands.

Only in the 20th century were the spectacular operatic effects removed. Most modern versions are based on the First Folio of 1623, but in every production some adaptation takes place. The play has been set in 19th century Cuba; Hitler's Germany and the First World War. It has been adapted as a classical opera (by Verdi) and a rock opera (Jack To A King in 1992). An all back version Umabatha was created in 1972 with Macbeth as a Zulu back in 19th century South Africa. Most recently a production at the Globe had no interval, Macbeth in a dinner jacket, Lady Macbeth in a evening dress and witches (two of them men) grooving to 1920's jazz.

So is the Stevenage Lytton Players production going to follow in the footsteps on Davenant with lavish sets and flying witches? Or is it going to follow the 1976 Royal Shakespeare Companies production where they showed small cast, working in a small space with minimal props, can create an outstandingly imaginative Macbeth.

With Dave Slade (who put Romeo & Juliet in a disaster torn future and Chess on an empty Gordon Craig Theatre stage) directing you'll just have to wait and see.

THE SUPERSTITION

Probably the most well known theatre superstition involves William Shakespeare's play, Macbeth -- often called, by actors, 'the bards play' or 'the Scottish play'.

The superstition follows that any company performing the play will be beset with horrible luck, ranging anywhere from uncanny accidents on the set to actual deaths within the company!  In fact, in many parts, it is not only the production of the play that will strike fear, but quoting from the play or even the mere mention of the name Macbeth inside a theatre, be it the stage, the house, the lobby, or especially the dressing rooms will lose a person acquainted with the stage nearly all his or her theatrical friends.

Any actor using the "M" word in a dressing room "should immediately leave the room, turn around three times, break wind or spit, knock on the door and ask permission to re-enter. Alternatively, (and less cumbersomely) the line "Angels and ministers of grace defend us," (Hamlet 1.iv) can be quoted." (Cassell's Companion To Theatre, 1997)

The Origin

There are many origins for this superstition. Old actors believe the witches' song in Macbeth to possess the uncanny power of casting evil spells.  Many actors, especially in England, avoid Matthew Locke's music for the play, quoting numerous stories of ill-fates befallen to those who have played, sung, or hummed it within the theatre walls.  The reasons for this fear usually bring tales of accidents and ill-fortunes that have plagued productions of the play through the world.

However, the ACTUAL reason for this fear is much more sensible . .. and rarely known by theatre peoples.  The superstition actually began in the old days of stock companies, which would struggle at all times to remain in business.  Frequently, near the end of a season a stock company would realise that it was not going to break even and, in an attempt to boost ticket sales and attendance, would announce production of a crowd favourite . . . Macbeth.  If times were particularly bad, even 'the bard's play' would not be enough to save the company, therefore, Macbeth often presaged the end of a company's season, and would frequently be a portent of the company's demise.  Therefore, the fear of Macbeth was generally the fear of bad business and of an entire company being put out of work.

Sources of Macbeth information - New Penguin Shakespeare & Cambridge School Shakespeare