IRELAND’S AWARD-winning classics company Second Age comes to the Town Hall Theatre next week with one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays, Macbeth.
This new production, which has been garnering rave reviews, is directed by David Horan and promises to be an arresting and vivid take on one of the greatest tragedies of all time.
“It’s about the dead coming back,” explains Horan in discussing his approach to the play with me. “In our production, the witches are the dead bodies of three soldiers who have been re-animated by evil spirits. In the famous scene where the dead Banquo comes back to haunt Macbeth, we also doubled Duncan and the Porter, so as soon as the king is dead he re-appears as the porter. It’s like in Jaws where evil is visited on a town.”
Macbeth is Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy and the first act in particular is rapidly paced. Horan reflects on the element of time within the play.
“There are two elements in particular,” says Horan. “One is the old Shakespearean device where characters announce who is about to enter and then the device of having asides which is a great device, there is great theatricality in it, I love using it but we needed to find a way where all of those choices would feel consistent and fresh for a modern audience so we have employed a ‘time bubble’ where characters can move into a slow motion of sorts.
“It’s as if Macbeth steps out of time to share his thoughts with us and sometimes characters enter ahead of cue and you see them preparing to come on and get an idea of what they are about to bring on. One of the main reasons for that is to give the whole play a sense of urgency and dynamism.
“There’s a lot of political scheming in the play, it starts with a rebellion and ends in all out war but there is also a domestic tragedy and you have Macbeth’s increasing paranoia as well. For all that to work we need to know those characters are in a world which is falling apart at the seams, where there is threat around every corner.”
One aspect of the production that has provoked comment is that the ‘porter scene’ has some non-Shakespearean ad-libs.
“The porter scene has proved controversial to some and is adored by others,” Horan declares. “After Duncan has been killed, and you have had about 35 minutes of what has been a heavy, brooding play, Shakespeare writes this porter scene which was a scene he wrote for the clown of his ensemble company to come on and entertain the audience.
“He would have included references to whatever was contemporary and it’s also the job of the clown to subvert everything that has gone before. We use every line that is in the original porter scene but have also allowed him to add a few more jokes and we let him mock some of the staging conventions of the production.”
Horan goes on to reflect on the central relationship between Macbeth and his wife.
“What we found interesting about Macbeth is not only the size of the journey he goes on in the play but the speed of it, he descends into paranoia very quickly,” says Horan. “From the very first moment when he’s told he’s going to be king he becomes very eager to kill very fast. Lady Macbeth wants to do it too but as a couple it’s not about her egging him on it’s about them doing it together as a team.
“I think people will be surprised at the level of gentleness of Lady Macbeth, when she talks about their dead child for instance it is quite moving. We wanted to show a couple who are still in love with each other throughout the story and didn’t expect things to go so horribly wrong. We want the audience to feel disappointed for them when things break and she goes crazy – for some people it is a surprise that they are so nice.”
A sizeable portion of Second Age’s audience are secondary schools studying the play. Does Horan find them a tough audience?
“I don’t find schools audience tough,” he replies. “The advantage with them is that adult audiences will sometimes be too polite and you won’t know if something is not working whereas with a schools audience they will tell you ‘We don’t believe that’.
“We wanted to do something that enthrals and entertains and is easy to watch because the one thing that is hardest to get across in the classroom is that the reason we still study these great plays is that we think they are brilliant and enjoyable and that they speak to us on a very human level.”
Macbeth runs at the Town Hall from Tuesday March 13 to Thursday 15 at 8pm nightly. Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie