Macbeth at the Movies

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The best way to see any of Shakespeare’s play is, of course, in the theatre – even if that theatre is a park in PEI.  But film makes the plays accessible to a wider audience, which is not a bad thing.  Keep in mind that, in the first weekend of the release of Laurence Olivier’s film Richard III, more people saw that film than had EVER seen the play on stage in the 350 years before.

 

 

 

Macbeth has not been a favourite for the big screen, at least not compared to the multiple versions of Hamlet or Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Orson Welles produced, directed, and starred in his own production in 1948: the high point was the exciting and sudden advance of Birnam Wood – the low point was disastrous Scottish accents.  Welles had also directed a remarkable all black cast in a Haitian “Voodoo” Macbeth with the Mercury Theatre in 1936 (some of which had been recovered and can be seen on YouTube).  Roman Polanski directed his version soon after his pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered by the Manson family, and the result is a version even darker than Shakespeare’s dark play.

 

 

 

On the small screen, though, some remarkable theatrical performances have been captured for posterity.  Ian McKellan and Judy Dench are still my favorite Macbeths, in a wonderfully pared down and psychological version directed by Trevor Nunn for the Royal Shakespeare Company.  More recently, and just out on DVD, is Patrick Stewart’s terrifying Stalin-like dictator: and for a man in his 70’s, Stewart is amazingly fit.  (The Weird Sisters – the witches – in this performance, by the way, are nurses, a terrifying twist.)

 

 

 

But some of the best things to watch are adaptations of Macbeth: a mobster remake in Men of Respect, James MacAvoy’s Macbeth as ambitious chef in Shakespeare Retold, Sam Worthington’s drug-addled nightclub Macbeth, and Akira Kurosawa’s Samurai Macbeth in Throne of Blood.  And when you’re tired of all the blood and death, try the parody version from The Reduced Shakespeare Company’s Complete Works of Shakespeare: Abridged.  (Many of these are available at That’s Entertainment!)

 

Contributed by Shannon Murray, publicist for ACT’s 2012 production of Macbeth in Stratford PEI.

 

The Curse!

Ian Byrne as the young soldier initially has the better of Macbeth, played by Richard Haines. This is their first fight rehearsal with shields and batons. Later swords will replace the batons.

You may have heard that this play is cursed. It is an old stage tradition that one does not say the word “Macbeth” unless one is speaking it during the play; actors will instead call it “Mackers” or “The Scottish Play.” The tradition suggests that it is particularly bad luck to speak that name in the theatre, though some especially superstitious souls will refuse to say it no matter where they are. If one does accidentally say “Macbeth,” there are various ways to counteract the curse, a favourite of which is to leave the theatre, recite any line from a Shakespeare Comedy (Midsummer Night’s Dream, another drama with supernatural elements, is a favorite choice) and then return.

But how did this idea of a curse come about? The origins are unclear: there are stories of injuries and deaths associated with the play – after all, there are a lot of murders – though it is by no means clear that mayhem follows this play more than any other. One suggestion is that since evil spirits are actually invoked in the play, perhaps they are interfering in the affairs of the actors, as the weird sisters do in the Macbeths’. (Our publicist loves that probably apocryphal story that, in one early performance of Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, the actors were surprised to find one too many devils on the stage!) Another is that some injuries might be the result of particularly strenuous swordplay at the end of the play, or that since much of the play is to take place in the dark or in fog, accidents could follow from poor visibility.

Our own belief is that the accumulation of anecdotes surrounding this curse is merely the result of awareness. Because actors are conscious of the curse, they will look for, remember and pass on any unlucky incidents that happen through a run of Macbeth, whereas they may ignore a stubbed toe or broken nose during Hamlet rehearsals.

Whatever the case, do remember that actors can be very superstitious creatures, (though not ours!) and if you do speak the name of the Scottish play, you may make someone unhappy. So, like Edmund Blackadder, it’s best not to say “Macbeth”  – a least more than once.

Rowan Atkiinson as Black Adder

Here’s a link to the YouTube comedy routine by Rowan Atkinson:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h–HR7PWfp0

Macbeth Actors from Stratford PEI

Cyril Armstrong will play the Doctor

Murder, ghosts, and witches are coming to Cotton Park and three Stratford residents will be involved. ACT (a community theatre) is helping to celebrate the Stratfords of the World Reunion with an outdoor performance of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and featured in the cast are Cyril Armstrong, Rob Reddin, and Catherine MacDonald.

Cyril Armstrong is an old hand at the theatre, though mainly behind the scenes, preparing sets for many successful ACT productions, including The Mikado and The School for Scandal. He is thrilled to have his first Shakespearean part, that of the Doctor, who is brought to help the guilt-ridden and sleepwalking Lady Macbeth. He is pleased that our Stratford will play host to this year’s reunion and he is eager for the chance to play in the Park: “Cotton Park will be a unique venue,” he says, and points to the challenges the actors will face in an outdoor performance on varied terrain. Now retired, Cyril has lived in our Stratford for twelve years, and he’s the only one of the four Stratfordian performers who has visited some of the world’s other Stratfords: both in Ontario and in England.

Rob Reddin as MacDuff, carries Birnam Wood to Dunsinane to defeat Macbeth

The man to play Macbeth’s nemesis, Macduff, is Rob Reddin. Rob works in non-profit youth development projects – coordinating an exchange program for the YMCA, and delivering water conservation education to elementary schools, and on the side, he feeds his theatre habit. He has done a little of everything: producing, directing, stage managing, and acting, though he says that since his most memorable parts have been drunks, he’s looking forward to the chance to play a more sober and noble role. “I think it’s amazing to have the production in Stratford,” he says. “The connection is exciting, especially the specific location – Cotton Park. I’m proud to be a part of it!”

Catherine Macdonald is Lady Macbeth.

One of Shakespeare’s greatest roles is Lady Macbeth, and in this production, Catherine MacDonald will play the strong woman behind the murderous man. This is a role she has wanted since she heard ACT was planning to mount it, and she’s excited to have it in her home town: “It is especially wonderful to be playing it in Cotton Park, as we live very close by. The library there is ‘our library’ and the trail is ‘our’ trail.’” A veteran of ACT and high school productions, she has been busy for the past decade both raising her three children and teaching English – including Shakespeare – at Charlottetown Rural. No doubt, her students will treat her with even more respect – and perhaps a little fear – after they have the chance to see her as Lady M.