Shakespeare’s Globe is home to the Globe to Globe festival “bringing together artists from all over the globe, to enjoy speaking these plays in their own language, in our Globe, within the architecture Shakespeare wrote for. The artists will play the Globe way – telling stories through the word and the actor, complemented by costumes, music and dance – and will complete each play within two-and-a-quarter hours (we hope).” Visit the link provided and you will discover all there is to know about the festival, the plays, the dates and the booking process.
Faced with the difficult choice of which of the 37 plays in 37 languages to see and given that our budget was rather limited, my daughter and I decided to pick the plays I know so well that I wouldn’t need to understand what’s being said on the stage – yes, I am the problem… she knows some 30 out of 37 plays almost by heart… Never mind.
One such choice was Macbeth in Polish, so one rainy Wednesday night we took our seats in Shakespeare’s Globe and waited quietly for the play to begin.
I must confess I had certain expectations, probably stemming from other versions of the play I had seen either on stage or in films, but, at the same time, considering the warning given by the organisers: “This production contains extremely adult content“, I was prepared to be surprised. Or so I thought…
The action is set in modern times. Macbeth, Banquo, Macduff are all members of the mob, led by the powerful Duncan. The banquets are modern parties with colourful and drunken people, cocaine sniffs and fights over who’s tougher. The council to decide upon the next king is a meeting by the pool, all men in swimming suits, drinks and cigars in hands, cocaine sniffing now and then and… fighting again like school boys over who’s dad is toughest. Murders are arranged and carried out mob style. After having Banquo killed, Macbeth joins the banquet accompanied by a 6 or 7 months pregnant Lady Macbeth who, by the end of the play, becomes un-pregnant again, takes some pills to kill herself and dies on stage. In the last scene, Macbeth is killed by the English soldiers, not by Macduff. No trace of the famous:
I bear a charmed life, which must not yield,
To one of woman born.
Despair thy charm;
And let the angel whom thou still hast served
Tell thee, Macduff was from his mother’s womb
Four witches instead of the original three, one of which is a woman and the other three are transvestites, are present all over the play, in scenes where Shakespeare did not include them like the banquet preceding Duncan’s murder or the scene of Macbeth’s death. The text is cut and moved and shortened, allowing for more acting, modern music – sometimes surprising as a choice, as in the case of I will survive and… witches.
As for the extremely adult content, Banquo has gay-ish moments when kissing and enjoying a lap dance by a transvestite/witch, Macbeth, gay-ish as well, indulges in a fellatio done by another of the witches, Lady Macduff is first raped and then killed by Ross, with Seyton witnessing the rape and playing with himself… Where did that come from? May Ross fancy his cousin? Why not? It was not uncommon to have marriages between cousins, a tradition in royal families which lasted until the 20th century. But rape? On the other hand, it is customary for Shakespeare’s characters to call each other “cousin” without really implying a family relationship, in which case Ross’ fancying Lady Macduff would make a lot more sense, but it still wouldn’t justify the rape.
The fellatio moment had several people suddenly stand up and ostentatiously leave the theatre (thus missing the rape scene), which proved to me that I am not the only one who thinks that the interpretation of Shakespeare’s texts should not go beyond common sense limits. When did we come up with the idea that if Shakespeare didn’t explicitly put something in the text, it means he didn’t explicitly exclude that possibility either? Or is it more like these young directors who feel all’s been said and done brilliantly before (and more than once), so all they can do is try something shocking, jaw-dropping, flabbergasting! As long as they stir a reaction, everything seems to work fine…
Oh, well… The Polish version didn’t rise to the height of the previous interpretations, but it surely managed to surprise.
Quoting my daughter, “not life-altering, but a lovely night out…“