Directed with a minimalist style by Sam Walters, this 1998 production of Shakespeare’s tragic play left a lasting impression on theatregoers at the small, southwest London theatre. Here is a review of the production.
A Minimalist Setting
The Orange Tree Theatre’s production does not have a significant setting in a time or place. The text is the only indication that the play takes place in Scotland. The director replaces Birnam Wood and Dunsinane with a sick Macbeth deconstructing the floorboards of the theater and obsessively going up and down a ladder. The stage employs the use of folding wooden floorboards to illustrate Macbeth’s puzzled, decayed mind and his claustrophobic world.
The production also robs us of the fun in viewing astonishing, choreographed sword fighting. We hear the swords clashing but only witness the actors miming the action. At first, this decision seems rather confusing, but as the play progresses, we find that Macbeth lives in a world where the invisible becomes visible—a representation of the breakdown of his sanity.
A pertinent example is when Macbeth decides to kill Duncan'””Is this a dagger which I see before me, The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee: I have thee not, and yet I see thee still — or art thou but a dagger of the mind, a false creation — ” (2.1.33-39).
Clutching the Dagger
In this production, Macbeth mimes that he is clutching the dagger, conveying to the audience that he actually sees the dagger. By contemplating whether or not the dagger is an illusion, he convinces himself that his actions could be illusions as well. In doing so, he believes that he can make himself believe that he did not kill Duncan. Weeping, he cries “to know my deed, ”¹…”twere best not know myself. Wake Duncan with that knocking! I would thou couldst” (2.2.70-71).
Macbeth Tears Up the Floorboards
Macbeth, played by Paul Shelley with a manic-like Jim Carrey comedic edge (and who played Donalbain in Roman Polanski’s film version), tears up the stage and speaks quickly. Looking deeper at his erratic behavior, his nervous and repetitive movements from the ladder to the foreground is an insight into his madness.
He tears up the floorboards when he realizes the end is near and ironically creates his final resting place. The fight between Macbeth and Macduff ends at the bottom of the stage illustrating how his insanity has lead him to create his own grave. Before his final call, however, he climbs to the top of the ladder. In response to Lady Macbeth’s suicidal scream, he comically states “What is that noise” (5.5.7.). With all loss of reason, he stands before the audience in his last moment of glory, showing no emotion over his wife’s death.
The production ran from February 5′”April 4, 1998 at the Orange Street Theatre.