When shall we three meet again?

A witches sabbath as imagined in a book from 1510

When shall we three meet again?
In thunder, lightning or in rain?

 In a typically fearless decision Michael Boyd, the RSC’s Artistic Director has chosen to open the first brand new production in the newly redeveloped RST without one of the most famous openings in any Shakespeare play –  but then he’s already tempted fate by choosing Macbeth, the play universally associated with disaster.

 As a director, Boyd rarely takes the easy or predictable line, and his production of Macbeth, which casts the three weird sisters, usually known as the witches, as children, plays against not just theatrical tradition but also Shakespeare’s text.

 There’s no such thing as a standard Royal Shakespeare Company approach to staging these days. The theatrical approach is epitomised by Greg Doran, whose Swan production of the play back in 1999 opened with a complete blackout and loud bang (people screamed), before the play began. Boyd’s approach is more cerebral, though he’s not the first to have come up with the idea of casting children in the roles of the weird sisters.

 There have been many different interpretations of the witches, from the old hags described by Shakespeare to beautiful young women and Lady Macbeth lookalikes. For some examples take a look at Warwick University’s Reperforming Performance website’s section on Staging the Witches. Boyd’s production will provide students of the future with much to discuss in their work on the history of Shakespeare on stage.

 And see my video blog on Fuseli’s painting of the Three Witches, owned by the Royal Shakespeare Company made for the 2010 Shakespeare Centre exhibition on Shakespeare’s Women.

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4 Responses to When shall we three meet again?

  1. Jo Wilding says:

    The RSC’s 2007 production (directed by Conall Morrison) certainly wasn’t standard either (and it certainly wasn’t cerebral) as it began with an invented battle scene in which Macbeth and Banquo slaughtered women and children. The women then became the witches and constantly appeared throughout the play. This addition at the beginning ruined the play for me as Macbeth is shown as a butcher from the start, rather than the man who starts with a conscience but who allows his ambition to make him descend into evil, goaded by Lady Macbeth. Her description of his nature as too full of the milk of human kindness is therefore meaningless. The production was awash with gore and savagery – not only were a heavily pregnant Lady Macduff and her children killed but also the unborn child she carried.

    • Sylvia Morris says:

      I believe that people should perform the plays however they see fit. They aren’t sacred or static, even in Stratford-upon-Avon. However directors sometimes need to remember that any production will be some people’s first, or indeed only, view of the play. By removing the debate on the nature of evil the play becomes as subtle as a strip-cartoon.
      The first appearances of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are important for the audience. A bloodthirsty villain in Act 1 wouldn’t need persuading to murder Duncan, wouldn’t see the vision of the dagger, and Lady Macbeth wouldn’t need to “unsex” herself. It also reduces the weird sisters to atmospheric window dressing and removes the interesting question of whether they are responsible for Macbeth’s acts , or merely predict what would happen anyway.

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