Macbeth – Dramatisation

Macbeth dramatisation – Introduction and overview 1. Reading a novel is something that you would usually do on your own; watching a play in the theatre is very much a shared experience. An audience is made up of different sorts of people, all of whom will have different reactions to what they are seeing and hearing. We all react differently to what is in a novel too but not usually all at the same time.2. A novel could be compared to a finished building but a script for a play is more like the foundations of a building. The words will be built on and developed by a director and the actors and this will be further enhanced by costumes, lighting, scenery and a whole host of technical and artistic choices. These will have an influence on how the audience reacts to the play. The three key areas we are going to look at are:- casting choices- performance choices- staging choices
Casting choices 1. One of the first and probably most important jobs for the director of a play is to choose a cast. Choices that are made will heavily depend on the look and feel that the director wants for the production of the play. One of Shakespeare’s strengths is that his plays are open to a variety of interpretations; for instance he gives away very little about how he thinks characters should look. So it will all be down to what the director thinks, making casting decisions quite crucial.2. It will also be vital to get the right combination of actors who will be able to work with each other. The Macbeths, for instance, need to work together as a couple. Banquo is a father; the audience have to believe that Fleance is his son. Duncan is likely to be older than the other characters. Macduff might need to be physically different from Macbeth so that the audience can distinguish between them more easily.
Casting choices – The Witches 1. Of all the characters in Macbeth, probably the most open to different interpretations are the Witches. They are the first characters to appear in the play and therefore set the tone of everything that follows. Macbeth was written and first performed at a time when fear of witches was at its height and although there is no way of knowing exactly how the Witches were originally portrayed, they must have made quite an impact. In Shakespeare’s time, women were not allowed to act on stage so men would have played. However, there would have been no suggestion that the Witches were not female.2. Traditionally, the Witches have been presented as sinister old women with evil powers. Modern directors, however, would probably see this as a stereotype and would try to find something more meaningful to today’s audience. The Witches have also been presented as:- fortune tellers- voodoo priestesses- identical triplet sisters- backing singers in a rock group- teenage goth schoolgirls- young children on a run-down council estate- bin men2. Nor do there have to be just the traditional three of them. In one production there were thirteen witches (note the significance of the number) – with the actors doubling up the other parts in the play, including Macbeth himself. This clearly emphasised the theme of evil and how all the characters are touched by it.
Performance choices 1. Once the play has been cast and rehearsals begin, the director and the actors will develop further thoughts about characters and how they should be presented. The text of the play and Shakespeare’s language will provide the biggest indication of how to make these choices. Typically actors will look closely at the text to see:- what the character says about her/himself- what the character says about other characters- what other characters say about her/him2. This evidence from the text will help actors to make initial choices about the way their character will develop.3. There will be discussions about a character’s motivation which will provide thoughts about aims and ambitions (this is particularly important in Macbeth) and why a character behaves in the way that they do. Reaction to other characters and interaction between them is obviously important and this will be explored in rehearsals, workshops, discussions and further investigation of the text. The director will also consider themes in the play and may wish to emphasise some and pay less attention to others. This will further affect decisions about performance and the particular way that the production will interpret the play.4. At this time, the director may also begin to think about what other elements (lighting, sound, costumes, etc) are added to the scene as it is performed.
Staging choices 1. Although there are many similarities between the theatres of Shakespeare’s time and the theatres of today, there are big differences too. Nowadays the audience is used to sitting in a large darkened room, watching a piece of drama in near silence. In the theatres of the late 16th and early 17th centuries, plays were more often than not performed during daylight in spaces open to the elements. Most of the audience stood and were not hesitant to make their feelings known, whether these were positive or negative.2. Possibly the biggest difference we would notice is how the plays were staged. Staging a play is the part of the overall creative process which involves making choices about the design and the supportive elements of a piece of drama, namely:- lighting- sound- effects- costume- scenery- props (or properties)
Lighting 1. In Shakespeare’s time, plays were usually performed in natural daylight. A handful of indoor theatres used candlelight. There was no electricity so there was no stage lighting as we understand it. Nowadays, plays are generally performed inside, using sophisticated computer technology and variable lighting rigs.2. In Macbeth, many scenes take place at night or in gloomily lit rooms inside castles. Other scenes are set outside during bad weather.3. Key events in which lighting might help to create atmosphere: the Witches’ first appearance; King Duncan’s murder; Lady Macbeth sleepwalking.
Sound 1. In Shakespeare’s time, basic “live” sound effects were used, such as a machine for making the noise of thunder. Music and effects were performed by live musicians. Now, digital recordings are used, which can be operated via a computer.2. In Macbeth, noise is an important element often used for shock value – like the owl shrieking as Duncan is murdered.3. Key events in which sound might help to create atmosphere: the knocking the Macbeths hear after Duncan’s murder; thunder in the Witches’ scenes; the final battle.
Effects 1. In Shakespeare’s time, effects were limited at best. Now, they are far more sophisticated and complex.2. In Macbeth, as the play is full of ghosts and spirits and deals with the supernatural, there are plenty of opportunities to use effects.3. Key events where effects could be used: the dagger in Macbeth’s vision, Banquo’s ghost at the banquet, the Witches’ apparitions.
Costume 1. Actors tended to wear the clothes of the current period, with no attempt made at historical accuracy. Now, a full range of costumes are available and used according to the vision of the director.2. In Macbeth, traditional Scottish dress is possible but obvious. Often the men wear military uniforms. The costumes chosen depend entirely on the director’s vision of the play..3. Key considerations: what clothing will the Witches wear?; how will the audience distinguish between Macbeth’s and Malcolm’s supporters?; possible use of symbolic colours.
Scenery 1. Back then, very little scenery was used. Locations were mainly shown by the use of props: for instance, a throne to represent a king’s castle. Now, scenery can still be simple but can also be spectacular, with increasing use made of video projection.2. In Macbeth, this depends on the director’s vision. The play is supposed to be set mostly in Scotland and covers various locations – heathland, castle rooms, woodland and battlefields, to name a few.3. Key considerations: moving locations without lengthy scene changes, showing the difference between internal and external scenes; how will Birnam Wood ‘move’ to Dunsinane?
Props 1. There were a limited selection of easily movable and easily storable objects which might feature in a number of plays, for example, swords. Now, props will be historically accurate and if not readily available can be created more easily.2. Important props: Duncan and Macbeth’s crown, the bloody daggers used in the murder, the Witches’ ingredients for the spell.

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