Titus Andronicus is one of the most bloody, disgusting plays in Shakespeare. As this infographic from the Royal Shakespeare Company shows, there are tons of deaths and some of them are even the result of cannibalism!
One way to capture the macabre nature of this play in the classroom, (which some scholars see as a horror comedy), is to characterize it through cooking, after all, revenge is a dish best served cold.
Me in costume as Titus Androgynous, a crazy cooking show host who butchers two people in the same manner as Titus
So here are some ghoulish gourmet dishes and revolting recipes that you can share with your students to help them get into this tragic tale of violence, revenge, and cooking:
Idea 1: recipe cards
Idea 2: Create a menu that summarizes the play:
Starter: Caesar Salad, toad in the hole
As the play begins, Caesar has died and Saturnine wants to devour his father’s empire. Enjoy this light salad in anticipation of far more bloody feasts to come.https://youtu.be/UxZ5NOkRwj0
Act II Scene 3: Breakfast:
While on an early morning hunting trip, Bassianus is slaughtered like a lamb by his own nephews. Enjoy this sweet treachery with a golden egg in the hole.
Act II, Scene 4: Main course:
Roast venison with all the trimmings
“As the deer that hath some unrecuring wound.”
“She was washed and cut and trimmed.”
Titus compares his daughter to a deer or welkin, and in the play’s most barbaric scene, the emperor’s sons ravish her and cut out her tongue. They enjoy the cruel rape and mutilation just like two starving lions enjoying their prey.
Just desserts: people pot pie.
“More stern and bloody than the centaur’s feast,” A truly unforgettable dessert for this feast of carnage. The cook, Titus, reinvents the term rich food by cooking two emperor’s sons into pies.
Served cold, like revenge!
“Set him breast deep in Earth and famish him.”
Idea 3: Real Titus foods inspired by my favorite Halloween diy recipes
Or this grisly appetizer: cheese hand in prosciutto
There are many horrific pie recipes on the internet, but for a busy teacher on a budget, I’m adapting this one from the YouTube channel Threadbanger: https://youtu.be/E6U6xUl3A5M. Don’t show this video to your students because there’s far too much cursing. That said this recipe is very cheap and it’s easy. He used only store bought items and no fancy cooking techniques, which means if you choose to bake it as a classroom activity, even your students can help make it. Here are some tips from the video to get the most horrible ppeople pie you can make:
• Use red filling like cherry or strawberry for filling.
In 2011, I wrote a graduate thesis about some of the challenges of playing Shakespeare’s Richard III, specifically those related to playing his deformity. What follows in this post is an adaptation of the presentation I gave at the American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriars Playhouse, in Staunton Virginia. I gave this presentation with the help of my actors, Matt Carter, Jemma Levy, Amanda Noel Allen, and David Santangello. I also interviewed live onstage, one of the ASC’s greatest actors John Harrell and his director Thadd McQuade, about a unique production of Richard that he performed for the company back in 2002. What follows is the script I wrote for the presentation, as well as the video and Powepoint slides I projected for the audience, to help you see my work in performance. You can also consult a website I designed for the ASC’s production of Henry VI, Part III, where Richard was played by actor Ben Curns.
Now is the winter of our discontent Made glorious summer by this sun of York; And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house In the deep bosom of the ocean buried. But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks, Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass; I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion, Cheated of feature by dissembling nature, Deformed, unfinish’d, sent before my time Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable That dogs bark at me as I halt by them.
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace, Have no delight to pass away the time, Unless to spy my shadow in the sun And descant on mine own deformity: Applause, he sits on one of the gallant stools.
Section 1: Introduction
Many of you recognize those famous lines from the opening soliloquy of Richard III, ably delivered by Matt Carter. Did you notice the ways Matt was moving and the qualities of his voice? Tonight, my actors and I will show you some of the choices actors have made in playing the deformity of Richard III. Deformity and Richard are so closely linked that I would argue that it is the central driving force of the character. The different performances we will discuss show changes in views on deformity, as well as changing theories on the actor’s craft.
Every actor is interested in the human body, every actor is interested in how the mind and body work together, and most importantly, how to present the mind and body of a character to an audience in a clear and articulate way. No matter how the actor decides to represent it, Richard’s deformity of mind and body are essential to the understanding of the character. In his first soliloquy, in the play Henry the Sixth, Part III, he expresses a deep pain, sorrow and bitterness at being denied a normal body. As Jemma delivers this speech, ask yourself- do you pity him? Does this man have a reason to be angry?
Why, love forswore me in my mother’s womb: And, for I should not deal in her soft laws, She did corrupt frail nature with some bribe, To shrink mine arm up like a wither’d shrub; To make an enviousmountain on my back, Where sits deformity to mock my body; To shape my legs of an unequal size; To disproportion me in every part, And am I then a man to be beloved? O monstrous fault, to harbour such a thought!
Henry VI, Part III, Act III, Scene i.
In this speech, like the previous one, Richard expresses the belief that his deformity was a curse, laid on by his mother. During the Renaissance, people believed that deformity was a mark of evil and a sign of being cursed by God. Like the Mark of Cain in the Bible, Richard’s deformity signifies that he was “determined,” (presumably by God), to prove a villain.” The deformity also gives Richard psychological motivation. Lacking a normal body, Richard is hungry for revenge, and in search of something to elevate himself above more fortunate people- power.
Section 2: Burbage
PAUL: The first Richard was almost certainly Richard Burbage, Shakespeare’s star actor. Burbage was associated with the role long after his death.
‘A funerall Elegy on the death of the famous Actor Richard Burbage:
Who died on Saturday in Lent, the 13th of March 1618′
No more young Hamlet though but scant of breath
Shall cry revenge for his dear father’s death:
Edward shall lack a representative,
And Crookback, as befits, shall cease to live.”
Unfortunately, we have no information on how Burbage played the deformity, but we have one clue as to how his performance might have been received, in the form of an apocryphal story from the diary of law student John Manningham, on 13 March 1602:
Upon a time when [Richard] Burbage played Richard III,
There was a citizen grew so far in liking with him that before she went from the play,
She appointed him to come that night unto her by the name of Richard III.
Shakespeare, overhearing their conclusion, went before, was entertained, and at his game ere Burbage came.
The message being brought that Richard III was at the door,
Shakespeare caused return to be made that ‘William the Conqueror was before Richard III.’
Although this story is apocryphal, it does hit upon other features of Richard’s deformity- his supreme confidence, and his beast-like sexuality. Scholars have pointed out that Richard’s lack of scruples, (the result of being born deformed), makes him completely focused and confident. Likewise, his non-conformity to traditional standards of beauty could also be seen as a rebellion against societal norms, and thus, a strange aphrodisiac. This dark creature, without a recognizable human shape, manages to exert a dark pull on the audience.
Section 3: Cibber
Surprisingly, for nearly 300 years, portrayals of Richard III have been heavily influenced by an obscure author who was not even Shakespeare’s contemporary
During the Restoration of theater in the 17th century Shakespeare’s plays were largely out of fashion, condemned by critics as “too vulgar for this refined age,” and playwrights began to rewrite and adapt them. The most successful adaptation of Richard the Third, came from poet-laureate Colley Cibber in 1671. Cibber’s text interpreted the story as one man’s evil rise to the crown, not the culminating story of the Wars of The Roses. Cibber cut most of the history involved. He condensed scenes, omitted others, and gave Richard 10% more of the dialogue, then Shakespeare. Cibber’s text also re-emphasizes the importance of deformity to Richard’s character- adding 8 more uses of the words “deformed,” or “ugly.” To further the point, Cibber inserted text from other Shakespeare plays that speak about Richard’s deformity, such as the Henry VI speech spoken earlier. Cibber freely cut-and pasted from Shakespeare’s histories, which can be demonstrated in this speech where the Lady Anne mourns for the death of Henry the Sixth, using lines written by Shakespeare for the funeral of King Henry the Fifth:
Hung be the heavens with black, yield day to night! Comets, importing change of times and states, Brandish your firey tresses in the sky, And with them scourge the bad revolting stars That have consented unto Henry’s death!
O be accursed, the hand that shed his blood
Accursed the head that had the heart to do it! If ever he have wife, let her be made More miserable by the life of him As I am made by Edward’s death and thine!
Cibber also wrote his own speeches for Richard, such as this one where Richard resolves to woo Lady Anne in spite of his deformity:
But see! My love appears. Look where she shines
Through her dark veil of rainy sorrows
Tis true, my form perhaps may little move her;
But I’ve a tongue shall wheedle with the devil.
PAUL: Cibber’s text was extremely popular with actors because it raised Richard’s importance to a star role. Actors such as David Garrick made their debut as Cibber’s Richard, and some of Cibber’s editorital choices still survive in the two movie versions of Richard by Ian McKellen and Laurence Olivier.
Section 4: Olivier
Olivier, in the 20th century was considered the definitive Richard. In his film version he emphasizes Richard’s evil and deceptive nature. He uses the character’s physical disabilities (as well as various cinematic techniques) to reveal his moral depravity.
The Crown of England- the tremolos and the large crown that appears in the beginning, middle, and end of the film. Homage to Cibber.
CINEMATIC USE OF DEFORMITY
Long camera angles as he limps away, exposing hump and limp
In this shot, Richard slinks away from the camera, leaving his bizarre silhouette to unfurl like a snake
In this shot, Richard bends over to whisper evil thoughts into the king’s ear.
Finally, in this shot, we see the shadow of Richard’s head, as he stares into the cell of his brother Clarence, as he plans his murder. We see through this shot, Richard looms as a great evil presence.
Section 5: Sher
After Olivier, actors abandoned the approach of making Richard into a monster, and favored a more human, natural approach.
The role of Richard III however, presents unique challenges for actors attempting to do this; they are attempting to do something un-natural by playing a deformity that they do not actually have. Thus they are attempting to play something “un-natural” within the precepts of naturalistic acting.. Antony Sher’s massive preparation for the role, using Method acting techniques, included both a thorough research into the physical effects of real disability, and a deep examination of its psychological effects.
Used Method acting techniques to create the role:
Real-life experience- Crutches came from his own real injury.
Research into physical deformity.
Image Research. He used Margaret’s text to create a visual design for his character, a bottled spider.
Psychoanalysis- brought Shakespeare’s text to a real psychiatrist to “put Richard on the couch.”
Sher’s technique led him to go into a deep, psychological probing of Richard’s mind. He viewed the deformity as a source of deep pain, through which we can identify with Richard as a human being.
Listen to how David, applying Method-inspired text analysis, conveys Richard’s human emotions.
But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks, Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass; I, that am rudely stamp’d, and want love’s majesty To strut before a wanton ambling nymph; I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion, Cheated of feature by dissembling nature, Deformed, unfinish’d, sent before my time Into this breathing world, scarce half made up, And that so lamely and unfashionable That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;
PAUL: Sher’s massive preparation for the role represent the limits that an able bodied actor could go to portray a disability he himself did not have.
Section 6: From Sher to Harrell
Sher’s Richard created an unexpected backlash from disabled community.
One response to this: a number of Richards played by disabled actors.
Henry Holden in 2007. Like Sher, on crutches, only he needed them.
Peter Dinklage played the role with none of the traditional deformities.
His size was a kind of disability, as it literally hindered him from taking the crown–
He was tangled in his robes,
Couldn’t reach the throne.
Critics writing about the performance claimed watching him was more real. You weren’t watching a performance, you watched a real man, with a real struggle.
Another response is approaching the deformity from a more stylized perspective.
This was the approach favored by Thadd McQuade.
The essence of this performance was watching a man struggle through life trying to overcome obstacles and find a place for himself in the world, a struggle that is the essence of all tragedy.
Section 7: 10 minute interview with Thadd and John.
Both– Explain the way you chose to represent deformity (bowling ball) and why.
John- I got an email from actor JP Schiedler, (who was in the production) who said “ As I recall John was very interested in working inside of some form of restriction which forced his body to adapt, struggle and physically change how he could deal with the world around him which the ball did.” If this is true, I’d like you to talk about this idea- why was it important for you to have something that restricted you? I want to get an idea of how you saw the physicality of Richard and how it is important to the character.
Thadd, when I interviewed you, you mentioned that doing the play naturalistically can actually be off-putting because an able-bodied actor will never completely pull off the deformity. I want you to repeat some of that to explain the virtues of a more presentational Richard.
Both- How did your techniques contribute to a better understanding of the play for the audience?
Conclusion: Richard’s deformities and disabilities are both physical and psychological. They are the driving force in his life. Portraying Richard’s deformity is a microcosm of the challenges that face all actors: making choices of how to explore the mind and body of a character. Watching an actor take on the challenge of portraying this man’s struggles. This struggle is the essence of tragedy and watching an actor take on the challenge of creates powerful and poignant theatre.
On this page, I review a Shakespeare book, movie, or TV show that I feel has some kind of value, either as an interpretation of Shakespeare, or a means to learn more about the man and his writing. This post will introduce you to an incredible documentary, and in my view one of the best ways to encourage, excite, and challenge young people reading Romeo and Juliet Aptly titled, it is called, My Shakespeare.
Director: Michael Waldman
Ages:PG for frank discussions of violence, and occasional suggestive language.
Media:Full length documentary, (available on Amazon and Netflix DVD)
Recommendation: I’d recommend this to high school and college students, as well as all theater teachers and practitioners. A word of caution though- nearly everyone in the documentary speaks with various British accents (from posh London to poor Harlesden), and thus if you think your class might not be able to understand foreign accents, you might want a different version, or put on the subtitles.
Premise: Director Patterson Joseph is a man on a mission- to prove that the people in his home town, (the poor, violence-ridden town of Harlesden England), that these same people can and will put on a production of Romeo and Juliet, in just four weeks. The cast has never acted before, and Patterson sometimes has to drag them kicking and screaming into rehearsals, but eventually they all learn that putting on a Shakespeare play can become an extremely personal experience. In the beginning, they are attempting Shakespeare, but by the end they live it. In between the action, there are interviews with Baz Luhrman, the celebrated director of the Leonardo Dicaprio film version of Romeo and Juliet back in 1996. Baz serves as a sort of chorus, explaining some of the challenges a director like Patterson will inevitably face as he and his actors bring the play to life.
Repeated Ideas That Run Through the Documentary:
You can do this- you can act, you can understand Shakespeare, you can finish something, you can show emotions, and you can direct.
Shakespeare is able to tell stories that appeal to everyone, and here’s the proof.
The best way to understand Shakespeare is to get on your feet and do it.
Moments to watch for: Before I list my favorite moments in the documentary, I’d like to list the theatrical process by which Patterson and his company put on Romeo and Juliet.
The Process Of Creating Romeo and Juliet:
Auditions/ ImprovGames (4 weeks to go)
Table Work, where the actors read the script and talk about their characters.
Paraphrasing the script and improv (9 days to go)
Stage combat Rehearsals- prepping the fights.
Opening Scene rehearsal on a basketball court.
The Emotion Workshop (8 days to go) The actors try to tap into their own emotions to try and bring some real feelings into their parts.
Death Scene Rehearsal in a Graveyard!
Last minute changes (5 days to go)
Globe theater rehearsal
Nighttime Balcony Scene Rehearsal at the aptly named, “Shakespeare Road.”
Tech Rehearsal at the Royal Academy Of Dramatic Arts.
Speed Through Rehearsal/ The final rehearsal (1 day to go)
Performance at the Royal Academy Of Dramatic Art
Now a look at some of my favorite parts of the documentary.
The audition/ casting scene- In this scene you watch the future cast members explore the story of the play through improvisation, then you see their background through a series of headshots and dossiers. The whole cast is more diverse than any West End production: black, white, Christian, Muslim, young people and old people. Patterson’s casting choices alone makes this production fresh and relevant to our shrinking little world. A few cast members are refugees that came to England because of their countries’ own family feuds in Somalia and Afghanistan. Even more striking, Romeo and Juliet are very young- 18 and 22 respectively, which gives their love scenes an amazing truth and honesty. At first they think they have nothing in common with their characters, but in reality they have even more in common than most of us who read Romeo and Juliet.
The table work scene where the cast learns about their characters You see Mustafa as Mercutio learn that Shakespeare can be funny, you see Jonathan as Romeo learn that some of Shakspeare’s words are still used today, and you see Muska just start to flirt with the idea of playing Juliet.
Jonathan’s Story- Unlike most actors who have played Romeo, Jonathan Thomas has been in a real fight, and he describes it in brutal detail, even showing the scars he got from his stab wounds. Hearing his story gives his performance a truth and poignancy that I’ve never seen in any other version.
The Balcony Scene Rehearsals- In this documentary the two leads perform the scene many times, in rehearsal where they talk about how hard it is to play love realistically, in Shakespeare’s Globe, where they see how it was done in Shakespeare’s day, in a modern balcony back in Harlesden, (on the appropriately named “Shakespeare Road,” and at last in the final performance. Few documentaries show just how hard it is to do a Shakespearean scene, particularly if it’s famous, and how many different ways a director and a pair of talented actors can play it and find new things each and every time.
The scene where Patterson lets one of the actors go. Everyone in this production has to overcome obstacles, even the director; when one of his actors fails to perform, he simply has to drop the axe and recast one of his lead roles. Theater is hard work, and just like any job, the director has to take control and do what is necessary to make sure that the production is a success.
Rehearsal at the Globe Theater On one very special day, the actors step onto the stage of the reconstructed Globe, and take a few tentative steps into the 1500s. Once in the space, they take to it like fish to water, playing with the audience, playing with projection, and their lines are infused with a special kind of energy that only arises from the boards of an Elizabethan stage. I found it interesting that when Jonathan was talking to Mark Rylance, the artistic director of the Globe, he asks what kind of man Shakespeare was, because he’s starting to see Shakespeare as a peer!
My reaction: This documentary gives me hope every time I see it. Over and over again Patterson instills in his cast the idea of “Yes, you can,” yes, these people can understand Shakespeare, yes they can learn their lines, yes they can act, yes they can do something intelligent, and moving, and honest, and beautiful and what better play to bring that message across than Romeo and Juliet, which is full of youthful energy and excitement. My only complaint is the interviews with Baz Luhrman don’t really add much to the documentary side of things; Luhrman was really only there for name recognition, and he certainly knows less about Shakespeare than the RSC veteran Patterson. Nevertheless, the whole documentary Is nothing short of inspiring from beginning to end.
Notable cast members
Muska Khpal as Juliet. An 18 year- old Afghan refugee who came to England in 1996, without even speaking English, now playing one of the greatest characters in English literature! Like Juliet herself, Muska has very strict parents (who didn’t approve of her playing the part), and is at first is extremely shy towards Romeo, toward the play, and even the director, but when you hear her talk about her dream to return to Afghanistan and become a doctor, you can sense Juliet’s strength and independence.
Jonathan Taylor 22 year-old Jonathan is a very charismatic and intelligent young man. After this production he became a professional actor. He speaks articulately about the experience of acting for the first time, reading Shakespeare for the first time, and even his own experiences with love and violence on the streets of Harlesden. He is also very talented and speaks the lines with an effortless panache. I found myself rooting for him the whole time, and the fact that I got to see this production spark his interest in acting and then to see him change and grow was truly inspiring.
Mustafa as Mercutio Tiny, sparkle eyed Somali refugee. He is truly Mercurial- he frequently jokes and kids with the cast, yet at the same time, he is deathly serious when he talks about his life in Somalia- seeing people die in front of him. When he dies onstage, you know his performance is drawn from some real world experience.
This was without a doubt, the most incredible theater experience I’ve ever had. It was scary, interactive, exciting, clever, sexy, and even a little disturbing, but without a doubt it was incredible, original, and true Shakespearean theater.
Before you read the review though, a word of caution-
WARNING: this is a production where, the less you know about it, the better your experience will be. I will provide a basic outline of the production, and give you an insight into what I experienced, but I would urge you to see the show yourself without any preconceptions, so if you want to keep the mystery going that surrounds this production, I suggest you stop reading…
Alright, if you’ve chosen to keep reading, that means you want to know more, so more I shall give you. Going from the general to the specific, I’m going to talk a bit about what the show is, then describe the experience a bit, and then offer some tips for people who have never gone before.
Sleep No More is not the traditional kind of theater- there is no proscenium, no stage, no seats, and only one platform. It’s what theater teachers like my wife call “Experiential Theater.” The way she explains it, it’s theater that exists as an event. Rather than sitting and watching, you actively follow the action and you can get so close to the actors you can, (and sometimes will), touch them.
The play was conceived by an English company called Punchdrunk Theater Company, who took over an old 6 story warehouse on West 27th Street in New York City, and turned it into a fictional hotel/bar called the “McKittrick Hotel.” The play, (which is done entirely without dialogue), is a re-imagination of both Macbeth, and the novel Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, set in the 1930s. The audience is admitted on the ground floor and are permitted to go freely through the 6 floor set and watch the actors perform. Different actors perform on different floors and interact with other actors at different times, and the audience may watch any scene or actor they wish.
The title of the play comes from this passage from Macbeth:
As I said before, this a very freeing and very active kind of theater. The only division between you and the actors is that you will wear a face mask. Your role is basically to be an anonymous spectator at an event that unfolds before you, an event full of madness, sex, murder, and mayhem. I would describe it as sort of like living in the strange orgy scene in Eyes Wide Shut, or that scene in The Shining where Shelly Duvall runs through rooms of the hotel and keeps seeing bizarre sights.
From the moment you enter the incredibly detailed hotel, you know you are in a place that was dangerous, dark, and chaotic. You wonder if the people are crazy, or if the building itself is crazy.
As an audience member, you set the pace of your experience as you wonder through the hotels’ infirmary, library, parlor, bath, ballroom, balcony, patio, and dark forest (masterfully designed by Alexandria Challer). Eventually the actors will find you and you choose whether to follow them or wait for something else to come along. When I first entered the hotel, I spent a few minutes looking at the set- reading a hotel guest list, or examining a jar in the pantry, or staring at animal carcasses in the trophy room. Eventually though, I found a story unfold before me, and I rushed to follow it.
Because none of the actors talk, this play is not Macbeth, unless you want it to be, it is not Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, unless you want it to be. YOU determine what your experience is. The great, (and famously crazy) theater theorist Antonin Artaud once said, “Text is a prison.” If that’s true, then Sleep No More has set its actors free: their movements convey the story through mime, ballet, gestures, and occasional words. This freedom from the restrictions of text means that it’s up to you to truly piece a story together, and you will find that story can alter, change, and sometimes disappear into mist.
How is This Story Macbeth? (Spoilers Ahead)
One of the most common complaints I read online from people who saw the show is that they didn’t understand the connection between Sleep No More and Macbeth. I don’t want to give too much away because I feel that part of the fun in this production is trying to figure out the connection yourself, but I will provide you with a few scenes to look for, to give you some clues on how to connect this physical theater piece with Shakespeare’s play:
Scenes to look for:
In the bedchamber on the 3rd floor, there is a bathtub on a small platform. On the steps leading up to the tub I saw a letter that contains this text from Shakespeare:
They met me in the day of success: and I have
learned by the perfectest report, they have more in
them than mortal knowledge. When I burned in desire
to question them further, they made themselves air,
into which they vanished. Whiles I stood rapt in
the wonder of it, came missives from the king, who
all-hailed me ‘Thane of Cawdor;’ by which title,
before, these weird sisters saluted me, and referred
me to the coming on of time, with ‘Hail, king that
shalt be!’ This have I thought good to deliver
thee, my dearest partner of greatness, that thou
mightst not lose the dues of rejoicing, by being
ignorant of what greatness is promised thee. Lay it
to thy heart, and farewell.
This was the first definite evidence I had that the performance was inspired by Shakespeare besides the title of the play. A woman in a beautiful ball gown entered and read the note, pacing the whole time. Suddenly a handsome, red headed man came in. Like the Macbeths in Shakespeare, the body language between these two was hot and fierce; at times passionate and sexual, at times violent and animalistic. Lady Macbeth uses her body and her caresses to tempt her husband to murder, as the one in Shakespeare seduces him with her words. He trembles, turns away, brushes her off. Then, when she persists they struggle- clawing and slapping, even throwing each other across the bed, but in the end, exhausted, he slumps. She, victorious, leaves the room, looking like a queen already.
2. Alone in his room, Macbeth contemplates his dire murder. He leaves the warmth of the bedchamber and enters a dark, moon-lit forrest with a few gravestones. I followed him out into the forrest, knowing that what he does now will probably be an interpretation of Macbeth’s two most famous soliloquies: “If It Were Done When Tis Done” (Act I, Scene vii), and the famous Dagger Speech from Act II, Scene ii. Since the actor didn’t talk, he had to convey Macbeth’s inner torture with his body. I saw him going up to a statue of the Virgin Mary, beating his fists and chest against the hard stone. It was clear to me that this symbolized Macbeth’s struggle between morality and desire. He staggered away from the statue and stopped at a stone pathway that led back to the bedroom. Macbeth then put his hands on the stones, lifted his body up pull-up like, and kicked his legs in a futile attempt of motion. I immediately thought of Macbeth’s line:
I have no spur To prick the sides of my intent, but only Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself And falls on the other (Macbeth I,vii).
It was clear that the actor was showing how Macbeth cannot bring himself to kill, yet is too ambitious to let go of the desire to kill and this is what manifested in his tortured body. He then turned toward me and the other audience members and I saw his expression change. He looked around, worried, even frightened, as if he saw something he couldn’t believe. It wasn’t clear to me at first, but now I’m pretty sure that he was looking at the dagger from his famous soliloquy, and it was US. He ran from the forrest, and we charged after him like a swarm of angry bees! We found him in a corridor on the 2nd floor, where he again hoisted his body up against an old fireplace, inverting himself with his legs sticking up, and his head below, like an upside down cross. He then stretched his hands out and waved them frantically. Two frightened audience members took them and helped him hoist himself down. When Macbeth got to his feet, he proceeded to a darkly lit chamber where another man lay sleeping…
3. In a small bar on the 1st floor, I saw Macbeth with two women and one man. They all wore black lipstick and had crazed and hungry looks in their eyes. The music sped up to a crazed pace and the movements erupted into a terrifying orgy of sights and sounds. A strobe light pulsed showing me glimpses of the frightening spectacle, which included the two women stripping their clothes, the man putting on the head of a goat, and one of the women pulling out an infant covered with blood, and holding it in triumph over Macbeth’s head. At this moment I realized that these gruesome creatures must be the witches, and that they were foretelling Macbeth’s destiny as they do in Act IV. They also brought out a tree, which signified the prophesy that Macbeth will never be vanquished until Birnam Wood walks to Dunsinane Hill. To be honest, I don’t remember much after that, I was probably still in shock!
4. Back in the forrest, I encountered a small brick structure that looked like a tower, with a woman looking out of it expectantly. She beckoned me to come inside. When I did, I saw that she was dressed in a nurses’ uniform, and she was looking at a doctor with concern. Inside the tower was a small operating room with a circular table in the center, and two rows of seats above it. The doctor was injecting some kind of drug into his arm, which made it twitch in spasms. The two of them walked into the forrest and through a door into a room that looked like a small train station with platforms and travel posters on the walls. Lady Macbeth was there, wondering aimlessly. I instantly identified this moment as the famous sleepwalking scene, where Lady Macbeth contemplates the crimes to which she has become accessory. Usually the actress conveys her guilt by washing imaginary blood off her hands, but in this case she chose to interact with people, specifically, ME. She held out her hands to me, I took them. She looked into my eyes with a haunted look on her face. Then she whispered in my ear: “The thane of Fife had a wife, and she was beautiful.” I could see that this woman felt alone and afraid, with no one to talk to. She was no longer the powerful figure throwing her husband across the bed. This was what had driven her mad, and her madness allowed her to see me and the rest of us in the audience. She looked upon us with looks of disgust and terror, as if we were the ghosts of the people she killed, and ran away somewhere we couldn’t follow. We never saw her again (until the ghostly finale).
Those were just a few pieces that I witnessed. I won’t give away how it ended, but I will tell you that the show ended in a dining room on a tableau that reminded me of a cross between Da Vinci’s The Last Supper, and the banquet scene of Macbeth.
When I talked to my wife, (who also came to the show, but was in a different audience group from me), she told me that there were many other scenes that were clearly inspired by Rebecca; she encountered a woman that she figured out was the ghoulish housekeeper Ms Danvers. She also had an intense meeting with the long-suffering Mrs. DeWinter, who gave her a locket and told her to keep it always. Finally, my wife revealed to me the startling fact that (Spoiler Alert), the same woman who plays the infamous Rebecca, dressed in a red flowing gown, also becomes Hecate, the goddess of black magic in Macbeth!
These performances are athletic, well thought-out, and incredibly nuanced. If you take some time to familiarize yourself with the stories of Macbeth and Rebecca, you can understand how the actors are interpreting the stories through dance, mime, and interactions with the set, props, and occasionally, the audience themselves.
I’d now like to conclude this review with my own pieces of advice for those of you who choose to see the show:
Yes, wear comfy shoes. Almost everyone will tell you to bring comfortable shoes and they’re right- if you don’t want to lose the thread of a story, you have to be quick. Macbeth in particular is fast and nimble as a tiger, and you have to run fast to keep up with him.
Find a person that interests you. I think some people make the mistake of staying in one place too long and ignoring the actors. This is physical theater, so try to find an actor to follow.
Pretend you are a ghost if it helps Remember, murder and insanity are here, and you have a chance to see what it looks like and how it moves. Look right into the actor’s eyes and embrace your power to haunt these lost souls. Don’t be afraid to get close to them, and stay there as long as possible.
If you do read Macbeth or Rebecca beforehand, it can be useful to memorize a few lines or moments and look for them in the performance. I can tell you for a fact that these actors meticulously planned their performances to give physical life to these two great works of literature. Look for a gesture, a glance, or a prop that jogs your memory and puts you into this hybrid world of Shakespeare and Du Maurier.
The actors can sense if you are interested in interacting with them. If you seem scared or apprehensive, they will respect your space and not get close to you, but if you show them you are brave enough, they will extend a hand, or come toward you and give you a theater experience you will never forget.
Leave your loved ones behind. Nothing was more fun to me than talking about my experience with my wife after the show and piecing our nights together. Even though the same show was going on the whole time, we saw different people, to different rooms, and had very different reactions.
If an actor disappears, don’t wait for them. Sometimes you’ll follow an actorrl and they’ll duck into a corridor, or go behind a locked door, or a sentinel in a black mask will block your path. Now the story is over, and you are alone. Now you must choose again where to go, and try and uncover the sense of this horror.
If you get to go to the 6th floor, consider yourself very lucky. Only a few people get to see it. My wife said she saw one person go up there. He was on an elevator with a small group. As they reached the top floor, a hotel porter let him off, then extended an arm, to indicate no one else would be admitted. Even the man’s girlfriend was blocked by the porter, who then explained, “This experience is best undertaken, alone.”
Well, I hope this whetted your appetite somewhat. Like I said this show is incredible, and very different from the kind of theater we generally think of, and that’s what makes it engaging and exciting. However, there is violence, nudity, and gruesome imagery onstage so it is definitely not for children. If you are interested in learning more, you can visit the Sleep No More website: www.sleepnomore.com/