Butchering MacBeth

by Jamie Lutton

I went to see a production of MacBeth  on the 6th of November. It was a SIFF project. It  was broadcast live from Manchester, England.
For the $17 I paid, I was not at all impressed.

It was obvious they spent a lot of money on the production.  The production was a  broadcast of a live performance, staged in a 'deconsecrated' church instead of a theater.
They jazzed it up - there was real mud underfoot, as they 'rained' on the actors in the first  scene, a  battle with broadswords,  which was clever. However, the six inches of mud onstage got on the bottom of the trailing skirts of the witches and the women like Lady Macbeth, which made me flinch due to the unreality of it 
No woman would tromp through the mud like this, ignoring how filthy her clothes were getting. I gave that effect a 'fail' on my  Obviously dreamed up by a person who has never worn long skirts.

Another problem. They cut this short play by about 20%.
They shortened important characters' speeches and a quarter of the speeches of the witches were cut, giving  them little more than a walk-on presence in this play. Instead the viewer was focused on the star power of the actor playing MacBeth, and the actor playing his wife.  Since Kenneth Branagh was directing himself, I guess this was inevitable.
People come to watch Macbeth to see the witches, not just murderous Macbeth.
Some of their best lines like:
First Witch    Thrice the brinded cat hath mew'd.
Second WitchThrice and once the hedge-pig whined.
Third Witch  Harpier cries 'Tis time, 'tis time.
First Witch/ Round about the cauldron go;
    In the poison'd entrails throw.
    Toad, that under cold stone
    Days and nights has thirty-one
    Swelter'd venom sleeping got,
    Boil thou first i' the charmed pot.

ALL/ Double, double toil and trouble;
    Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

Second Witch/   Fillet of a fenny snake,
    In the cauldron boil and bake;
    Eye of newt and toe of frog,
    Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
    Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting,
    Lizard's leg and owlet's wing,
    For a charm of powerful trouble,
    Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

ALL/   Double, double toil and trouble;
    Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

There were many more lines cut, but that gives you an idea.  The phrase 'Eye of newt and toe of frog etc' alone have entered the English language as a spooky witch's chant. Even little kids know this chant. Cutting this and other speeches in this play ripped some of the guts out of it. ..
It is like cutting Richard III saying '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.
You recite that to anyone, anyone and they know it is the beginning of Richard III.  So, the audience sitting down to see this play I feel were ripped off. They wanted to be hear the shuddering, rantings of the forces of the dammed, these eerie witches, not just MacBeth's famous speeches. .

Men with swords plotting against each other can be gotten from watching Game of Thrones

I think it is the effect of a generation of cop shows on TV. and the movies.  Cut the mystery of witches and their talk, and focus on the slash, cut and stab (and the madness)  of the humans.. I think this shows that the director did not love the play, and was just looking for a star vehicle for the Kenneth Branagh.

.This Macbeth could have been memorable, for the ages.. God knows enough money was thrown at this, and it was broadcast all over the world.  But this was horrible. Other people leaving afterwards were silent, puzzled, running the play in their minds as I was.
Macbeth is the play of Shakespeare's I give my customers who have never read Shakespeare, or are have been put off of him by a bad teacher.  I sell it on its easy to understand plot,  the swiftness of the action, and it's occult nature.
I also remind them that when this play was written, all the people in the audience believed in witches, and that hapless women and men were being put to death for practicing witchcraft weekly.  In the colonies, the Salem Witch trials in New England were a generation in the future.  This is a snapshot of a time when magic and the supernatural was still real.

If you have seen this broadcast, go and read the play, and enjoy what was gutted out.  And see a live production of Macbeth by a more professional and less ego bound director.This was 'a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.'