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Restoration Macbeth and the Clanking Cell Doors



In our political climate, productions of Shakespeare's Macbeth can take on new currency. Macbeth is a story about distorted information, unbridled ambition, and what happens to a leader who gained his office illegally.


The Dresser has seen unusual interpretations of Macbeth--500 Clown Macbeth (2008), Synetic Theater's wordless Macbeth (2011) and the music theater/opera The Mortal Thoughts of Lady Macbeth (20050. However, no other production until the 2018 Davenant's restoration of Macbeth as the product of current day work by Shakespeare scholars and performing artists and as re-imagined by stage director Robert Richmond and the Folger Consort music director Robert Eisenstein can match the impact of what has been achieved. Richmond re-conceived the setting of Macbeth as a play within a play such that inmates of the British insane asylum Bedlam, in 1666 (two weeks after the Great Fire of London), have been put on stage outside their locked cells to perform Macbeth as a fundraiser for the damaged hospital.

If Crazytown (as described in Bob Woodward's new book Fear: Trump in the White House) has a model--the Folger Theatre at the Folger Shakespeare Library, which has been involved in years of research with international funding (a $250,000 grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council in the United Kingdom and Queen's University Belfast), is unknowingly providing it in the Restoration-era adaptation of Macbeth.

On September 14, 2018, the Dresser partook of Macbeth and sat on the edge of her seat for the entire performance, which runs just under three hours including one 15-minute intermission. There was no slack moment. The actions of the Bedlam warden who pounds his staff on the floor and opens creaky cell doors and then slams them shut as he pulls out the next inmate who has lines to deliver, penetrate deeply into viewer consciousness. Also, some of the soundscape produced by the Folger Consort--dissonant noise--adds to the scariness of these strange actors. Louis Butelli effectively plays the warden and Duncan, the king Macbeth murders.


Most handily, the Folger Library website, which sponsors both the Folger Theatre and the Folger Consort, provides side-by-side scripts of the familiar Macbeth play and its restoration offshoot. Without seeing the scripts, anyone familiar with Shakespeare's Macbeth will notice that the roles for the three witches has been expanded and some of it set to wonderful baroque music. Those more intimately familiar with the original script will notice extra scenes for Macduff and his wife and for Macbeth and his wife as well as some omissions and jarring changes in the text.

Take a look at the Restoration text versus the original text.


Restoration text:

To Morrow, and to Morrow, and to Morrow,
Creeps in a stealing pace from Day to Day,
To the last Minute of Recorded Time;
And all our Yesterdays have lighted Fools
To their Eternal [night]. Out, out, [short] Candle!
Life's but a Walking Shaddow, a poor Player,
That Struts and Frets his Hour upon the Stage,
And then is Heard no more. It is a Tale
Told by an Ideot, full of Sound and Fury,
Signifying Nothing.

Original text:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Shakespeare's original text is the more poetic work but this production as it is framed by the Bedlam inmates seems to allow for choppier and less poetic language.


Both Ian Merrill Peakes as Macbeth and Kate Eastwood Norris as Lady Macbeth are convincing in their crazy scenes. One delicious aside is Ian Merrill Peakes is joined in this production by his wife Karen Peakes as Lady Macduff and his ten-year-old son Owen Peakes as Fleance (son of Banquo). Owen is memorable in his scene with the witches as a large-winged bird.


Since there was no complete musical score for the Restoration Macbeth, Eisenstein used music from a variety of composers. Music from John Eccles, who had provided music for later Restoration productions of Macbeth, is used for the witches. Other music comes from Matthew Locke and Henry Purcell as well as from 17th century English and Scottish country dances, some of which includes the bagpipe. The music worked organically with the flow of the play.


The witches, known as the Weird Sister, are played by Emily Noël, Rachael Montgomery, and Ethan Watermeier. Watermeier looks like a man in drag and adds to the trio being called the Weird Sisters. Making one of the Weird sister a man was also a good musical decision and gives their musical performances more depth. Noël has an engaging solo singing number, which she delivers with feeling and acumen (after all she is also one of the crazy Bedlamites only play acting the part of a witch).

The Folger Shakespeare Library's theater is a replica of an Elizabethan theater--it is small and intimate. Folger Theatre (company) always does interesting stage sets. For the Restoration Macbeth, the six musicians of the musical ensemble sat on the balcony above the stage. Scene changes were aided by the players pulling an opaque scrim across the stage. For variety, Richmond used quite a lot of shadow puppetry, especially for violent scenes.Banquo-Murder.jpg

This production of Macbeth is a timely work come to stage in Crazytown, USA.

Photo Credit: Brittany Diliberto


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on September 16, 2018 7:59 PM.

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