Call it the “unlucky” or “Scottish” play, anything but Macbeth will do. Jane Goulding talks to director Mione van der Merwe about the Doha Players’ upcoming production.
Producers and actors have died during productions. So why, when there are scores of plays written by Shakespeare to choose from, would you pick the “unlucky” one to direct?
Director of the production, Mione van der Merwe, says: ‘When it comes to directing plays, Macbeth has always been high on my bucket list. The dark and tragic content, combined with the supernatural element, allows for so many powerful moments theatrically.’
Set in Medieval Scotland, King Duncan’s generals Macbeth and Banquo are on their way home after quelling a rebellion when they encounter three witches on a bleak moorland. The trio have a prophecy that, although Macbeth will become king, Banquo’s heirs shall rule. The witches then disappear before any more can be said. Murder and mayhem then ensue. If you want to know more, you’ll have to go and watch it.
Macbeth ideal for the stage
Van der Merwe sees it as a challenge for people to forget it as a secondary school read: ‘It is one of those plays that desperately wants to be lifted off the pages and thrown onto the stage. And yet, sadly, so many people only encounter it as a long, confusing high-school reading. This is the perfect play to show Qatar’s residents how powerful and exhilarating Shakespeare can be.’
The curse of Macbeth appears to happen when anyone inside the theatre mentions its name.
Van der Merwe is unconcerned with this: ‘It’s part of the appeal,’ she explains. ‘The misfortune that seems to surround this play only adds to its powerful atmosphere. The speculation and hushed voices that follow any mishaps during the run of the show create an energy that carries on long after the production is over. There are so many things in the world that can’t be answered or explained, so why not embrace those ambiguities.’
For the play, Van der Merwe is keeping the original language and setting. ‘The language is one of the main things that make Shakespeare’s plays so great. Embedded in the text, the actor will find a plethora of directions about the character’s emotions, state of mind, internal rhythm, pacing and personality. It’s like a secret just waiting to be discovered. Once the actor deciphers it, the character comes to life as vividly as the person standing right next to you.’
With a cast of up to 40 people, aged six to 70, van der Merwe will need all her skills as a director for Macbeth. But having spent 15 years involved in the theatre – she put on the hugely successful Les Miserables which made its Doha debut last year – she shouldn’t have any problems.
‘I proposed the idea in September and the board’s vote was unanimously in favour. We know we have the talent, skills and dedication to pull it off,’ she says.
So if regicide, scheming wives and battles are your thing, Macbeth will make for enthralling viewing. Proper Jacobean tragedy at its very best.
Curse of Macbeth
Tradition traces a long line of disasters, all the way back to its premiere...
• On opening night, August 7 1606, the boy actor playing Lady Macbeth died on stage.
• In 1934, four different actors played Macbeth in one week after each predecessor became sick.
• Macbeth was postponed for three days in 1937, after a change of directors and the death of producer Lilian Baylis.
• In 1954, a portrait of Baylis mysteriously crashed down on to the theatre’s floor on opening night.
The performances will take place on March 12, 13, 14, 17 and 19 at Black Box Theatre in Education City. Black Box Theatre, Student Centre, Hamad bin Khalifa University, Education City. For ticketing advice and more information, visit www.thedohaplayers.com and for general enquiries ring (4447 4911).
Getting in the mind of Lady Macbeth
With the Doha Players performing Macbeth this March, we get into the mind of the infamous Lady Macbeth by asking how she ticks and her future ambitions.
What gets you up in the morning?
My drive and ambition. Each day is an opportunity to advance in the great game of life. To yearn is to be human – to wholeheartedly go after what you desire is to realise the sweetest triumph life has to offer. When one strives for greatness, not a single moment can be wasted.
Also – strong coffee. Black, no sugar.
What do you think of weak-minded people?
They deserve what inevitably comes to them – an early death. This world is a cruel, hard place and one must be strong to survive. Those who do not have the fortitude to use whatever means necessary to gain what they desire are pathetic and engineer their own demise. To be irresolute and spineless is to invite others to trample you as they race towards lofty ambitions.
Why would your husband be a better king than Duncan?
Duncan is a benevolent ruler and therefore weak and lenient. Look how the late Thane of Cawdor betrayed him and joined with his enemies, almost to the destruction of Scotland, had my husband not been there to protect her. My lord has been in the throes of battle – he knows what it is to stare an enemy in the face, to feel exhilaration as his strength prevails and his sword slips into his foe’s heart and then immediately look for the next foe, to keep searching until all are slain. Scotland has many enemies. My husband will drive them back and impress upon all the true might and power of our great land. Even the fates seem to recognise this, for supernatural forces have hailed him as the future king.
How are you sleeping at the moment?
I sleep the deep and uninterrupted sleep of one who is secure in the knowledge of a security system and personally trained and vetted guards that cannot be breached, unlike the foolish Duncan. Though, now that you mention it, I do keep waking up covered in wax, my hands red and raw….
Are you a complex individual?
I am simple in my desires but perhaps complex in my motivations. I am driven by my ambition and my love for my husband. I am not cold-hearted or unfeeling – I am merely willing to do whatever is necessary to protect and promote those I love. Certainly there are very few who truly understand how I work. I am an expert dissembler – as a woman living in a man’s world I have learned to manipulate those around me, to hide my true motives under the mask of gracious hostess. Those who wear their hearts on their sleeves often have those hearts pierced.
What would you do to ensure that your husband has the throne?
Anything. My resolve does not bend squeamishly to softer, feebler feelings. What I have sworn to do, I do… without question.
What don’t you like about ‘normal’ motherhood?
Infants are weak and helpless. They so easily succumb to the harsh world around them. Why would I want to be tied to something that will drain my energy and resources through its own helplessness, and shake my iron resolve by inspiring in me those softer feelings of tenderness and gentleness which the birth of a child gives rise to?
Where do you get your ruthlessness from?
It is a ruthless world and one must be ruthless to live in it. Pity breeds contempt, thus one must be merciless to inspire respect. My father taught me this. He was a great man – strong, with an iron will. When my brother shamed him by retreating from battle in a coward’s fear, he bore the blade himself which ended his pathetic life. I swore I would never disgrace my father thus, as he was everything to me until I met my husband.
Who would you say is a good friend of yours?
My husband is the closest friend of my heart – what need have I of any other? Other women bore me with their gossip and talk of clothes. My lord and I are one. I know him better than he knows himself, and perhaps he might say the same of me.
Lady Macbeth is played by Rowan Denny in the Doha Players’ adaptation, pictured.