One of the greatest points of pride in my life is that I have never seen a single episode of Game of Thrones. And I never will. (Well above my limits of violence.) But I do not need to wonder what Game of Thrones would be like if Shakespeare wrote it. That is because Shakespeare wrote Macbeth.
Cleveland Shakespeare Festival’s production is fast paced and violent, which befits the play itself. The scene where Lady McDuff and her children are murdered was surprisingly affected. One of the actors stomped on the baby doll representing Lady McDuff’s child and I flinched momentarily. (More on that later.) I also clearly saw how Macbeth’s original murder brings about a whole host of murders. I easily lost track of how many people died in the play, but to some extent that is the point. Macbeth is a bloody play, and as soon as Macbeth performs the initial murder, he finds that he must continuously kill. Despite all of the action, I never felt lost in the play.
But what surprised me is how scary the play was. The play is full of frightening images and events (witches, ghosts, sleepwalkers, potions, apparitions) and the play definitely made the most of them. There is a scene where Lady Macbeth emerges, sleepwalking, holding a lantern, and I was struck how this is similar to an image from a horror movie. The apparitions that appeared to Macbeth were also classic, frightening images (shadowy figures draped in black.)
The performances were excellent, but two weeks on the most memorable performance was Duncan and the Porter. I was especially taken by the Porter. The Porter character is a clown, and is meant to be funny, and I was struck by how funny he genuinely was. The porter explains that drink is an equivocator of lechery, giving the desire, and taking away the performance. As he stated”makes him stand to, and not stand to” he dangled his arm like a flaccid penis, and everyone laughed. This is the correct response. This scene follows the harrowing scene in which Macbeth has killed the king and his children, and the audience needs a laugh.
I want to return to the moment when the actor stomped on the baby doll and contrast it with another moment later on in the play. Towards the end of the play, Macbeth is sword fighting another another character, and the character took a swing at Macbeth’s head. For a split second, I thought that he collided with Macbeth’s nose. Directors and fight coaches must take great care with fights on stage. They must look realistic, but not too realistic. The reason is that the audience will begin to fear for the safety of the actors instead of the characters. That moment, for me, went too far. I thought that the actor might have a broken nose.
This is different than the moment I had with the baby. When I saw them stomp on the baby, I flinched, but quickly remembered that it was a doll and not a human baby. Brecht would have loved that. (For those who do not know, Bertold Brecht was a playwright who felt that it was important to remind the actors that they were watching a play, in order to have them think about what they were watching.)
The Cleveland Shakespeare Festival has one more weekend of Macbeth, I encourage you to go check it out. This will bring an end to their 20th anniversary season of free Shakespeare outdoors all over Cleveland. I am looking forward to the 21st season, when we will meet again, in thunder lighting, or in rain, when the hurly burly’s done, when the battle’s lost and won.