Making a Murderer: Programme Note for Macbeth - Teatru Manoel, Malta, 2019
Here is a short piece I wrote for my production of Macbeth at Teatru Manoel in 2019, giving some context to our unfaithful and interior approach to Shakespeare's play.
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Phyllida Lloyd’s staging of the Shakespeare Trilogy (Julius Caesar, Henry IV and The Tempest) for the Donmar Warehouse, described by the Observer critic Susannah Clapp in 2016 as "one of the most important theatrical events of the past 20 years" certainly appears to me to be some of the most thoroughly modern versions of Shakespeare made by a British director in recent memory. Set within the walls of a women’s prison, Lloyd seems to be asking the following, fundamental question:
Why would people choose to use Shakespeare’s plays to explore their current predicament?
This notion begins to open these texts up for a startling new way of viewing them. Lloyd reminds us that by entirely unshackling these ubiquitous plays from their existing contexts, and by paying no heed to gender, ethnicity or Shakespeare’s (already loose) sense of time and place, we are able to properly revive them in the best possible sense.
In considering a new version of Macbeth for Teatru Manoel I was keen to avoid the much-explored option of setting the play within a semi-recognisable political/military regime or framework and rather concentrate on the plays fascinating psychological terrain and its obsession with the occult. I wanted also to avoid imposing a dystopian concept on which to offer parallels to our present situation, or prophesies of our future. As the cultural theorist Mark Fisher frequently notes, our notion of dystopia is in many regards still influenced by the iconic cyberpunk landscapes of those posited in films such as Blade Runner. Prophetic as this film now appears in terms of its conception of the 21st century's urban and economic landscape, we appear to have reached the point in which even science-fiction writers such as William Gibson no longer consider themselves to be writing exclusively within that genre. The point Fisher makes time and time again through the prism of what he terms Capitalist Realism is that it is getting increasingly difficult to imagine a future that doesn’t look and feel a lot like our present.
When I started to consider why someone might select elements of Macbeth as a parallel narrative to their own life it lead me to far more domestic, intimate revelations about Shakespeare’s play; the nature of loss, inferiority complex, mental health, late capitalism and depression - all notions that I've circled around in other projects in one form or the other. More than a play about vaulting ambition it became a study of our search for meaning, purpose and sense of self, as well as an examination of trauma, loss and the actions it begets.
In our version, the protagonist (The Man/Macbeth) finds himself subconsciously adopting Shakespeare’s story because it is within this narrative that he finally gets to become king and thus experiences a taste of power and control - the signifying principles of a toxic masculinity that he craves nonetheless. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth together attempt to conceive something new from the grief-stricken wreckage of unimaginable loss, albeit this time their child is delivered in the form of Shakespeare’s murderous plot. The characters in this version become therefore not only those of the author, but also those responsible for the everyday traumas one might experience in a life outside of Shakespeare’s play – the employer whose lifestyle one covets, the colleague who seems to know you better than you know yourself, the illicit relationship that eats one away from the inside. Seen as a metaphysical unravelling from the material world Macbeth moves away from the political in the sense of nation and becomes political on the scale of the domestic – applicable to and associated with the everyday human being, and less those of literal kings and queens. No longer are we positing a dystopian vision of our future to make reason of the play’s context, nor are we aping any political regime, rather we are keying in to fundamental issues about personal image and mental well-being that afflict our consciousness in these increasingly harried and harassed times. We are examining the effects of modern political and economic structure upon ordinary human beings and conjouring the ghosts of real existence manipulated by the traumatised mind. Where the protagonist decides what part each character plays and whether they live or die.
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