A Father’s Grief Turns to Madness: National Theatre of Scotland’s Macbeth

Edinburgh Expeditions

Promo portrait of Alan Cumming in Macbeth, yanked from scotsman.com

On Sunday, I had the privilege of attending The National Theatre of Scotland’s production of Macbeth, starring Alan Cumming. It was an incredibly powerful, poignant show–not only for its reimagining of the Bard’s play, but for its comments on the madness of grief. Alan Cumming tackles all of the roles but two–the porter and the doctor. He, as the patient, slips between characters mostly smoothly (it took a few moments to differentiate between characters at times).

The set design was incredible. As a former techie, sets are one of the first things I notice. Glasgow’s Tramway 1, where the show is being performed until 30 June, is a small, intimate venue. There is no curtain, and the audience is free to look at the set, that of a mental institution, in its cold, mint green splendour. There is a tub, several beds, and CCTV cameras, which are used to great effect, especially with the Weird Sisters.

The sound design is great. It is subtle, effective, and is not obvious, which is as it should be. It, like the lighting, highlights various points of the performance without being overbearing.

Now, to the performance.

One may initially think that Cumming is the titular Macbeth, but as the character is seen outside of his mad recitation of Macbeth, the audience realizes he is Macduff. With him, he carries a child’s woolen jumper. He takes it from the paper bag holding his personal effects; he looks at it sadly, with love; and then the Macduff murders occur. Whether or not this is what the directors intended, I’m not sure, but it’s what I got out of it. Through this staging, Macbeth became more than a tale of a power-mad couple who bring about their own demises through greed. It’s the story of a man undergoing deep grief, who loses more than the rest. Whilst Macbeth, Duncan and Banquo may lose their lives (and Macbeth his wife), it is Macduff who suffers worst of all. He loses his family, those who he cares for and loves best of all.

Macbeth runs until 30 June before it moves to the Lincoln Center in New York.

William and Me

The Twirl and Swirl of Letters

When I was a little girl, my sister and I used to build forts in our basement. Blankets and books became our bricks and mortar. My parents kept many books on the shelves, the topics as numerous as the books.

Even in my illiterate days, these books captivated me. I could barely pick up the book with the burgundy and tapestry cover. It’s cryptic cover enchanted me. Awestruck, I waited for the day when I would be big enough to open the book and flip through the flimsy pages.

Time passed. I grew older. I recognized what the letters said. “The Riverside Shakespeare”–one of my mom’s college textbooks. I could hold the book now, but still didn’t dare open it. Shakespeare was a name to be revered.

In fifth grade, my family visited England. Two days after my eleventh birthday we left the States and flew to London. One side trip was to Stratford-Upon-Avon, where we visited Shakespeare’s house. Well, we got there a half hour prior to closing, and rushed through the place before stopping at the gift shop. There, I got my first real taste of his words. My family bought an illustrated collection of his twelve best-known works, with summaries, character descriptions and excerpts from the plays. For years, I poured over this text, learning the characters and stories of Romeo & Juliet, Macbeth, and Julius Caesar.

My first taste of the Bard’s words as they rolled over my tongue was a little over a year later. We read a scene from Julius Caesar in my history class while studying Rome. My teacher assigned me to read the role of Brutus. I stayed up late the night before the scene “performance” going over my lines, testing them for the right sounds. There is magic in these words.

Shakespeare performed became a reality for me a year later, when I saw Romeo & Juliet performed. Though I now don’t care for the play much beyond Act III (Mercutio and Tybalt are my favorite characters), the production was outstanding. I loved every minute, and my introduction opened up worlds. Alas, the following week I sat through an awful production of Two Gentlemen of Verona, but it was the atrocious acting that scarred me, not the words.

It wasn’t until high school that I realized how much I worshipped the man’s words. While reading Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech from Romeo & Juliet out loud, I fell in love with the words. I continued to read his plays on my own, listening to actors play the roles.

The summer before my senior year, I participated in an acting camp based solely on Shakespeare. We performed snippets from Romeo & Juliet and Macbeth. I played Tybalt (we only had two guys in our cast). Though I didn’t have much to say, I had so much fun! I learned stage fighting and had a spectacular death.

My love for Shakespeare grows every year, with every play I read. Next up is Othello, I think.