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Macbeth (2012)

Directed by Damien Ryan

Written by William Shakespeare

January 7, 2012 to January 22, 2012

"I have given suck and know how tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me." - Lady Macbeth

This is a play littered with children, all of them so fragile within in its terrible events. It is a play constantly throwing up images of family and parents, often suffering in relationship to their children. It is this area of the play that fostered part of our approach to the production. For a play that is often swamped by an emphasis on its dark, foreboding mood, and on it’s bloodshed and its presence of evil, we were struck by what a ‘human’ story it is, by how recognizable the people and their relationships are, by how much struggle for goodness there is in the characters, even the villains of the title. To what extent is their first criminal act an act of love, a sacrifice she makes for him and in return, him for her?

Is there potential to see images and moments of what the Macbeth’s were before they were dealt this hand of fate? We learn their “castle has a pleasant seat”, that he is a “peerless kinsman”, she an “honoured hostess” and his “dearest love”. Their devotion to each other seems overwhelming – he writes to his “dearest partner of greatness” to share his promised future almost before thinking about it himself. She strips herself of her own humanity in order to support his cause within minutes of receiving his letter, without any hesitation. What kind of love story is this? As with The Shrew, what are people willing to do for each other to demonstrate their love? We were interested in letting the play take on a very new mood once the terrible war and conflict are over, a lighter mood, a promise of the future, a genuine revelry of peace and bounty as a suffering country tries almost too hard to let the bad memories of betrayal and bloodshed go. A country of families looking to the future, a closeness among people before the demise begins again when the Macbeth’s make their terrible choices. And tragically, it is both a love and fear of the play’s children that triggers that demise.

A cacophony of children echo through this play. Malcolm and Donalbain, sons of King Duncan (in this production a Queen); Fleance, son of Banquo; the young Macduff children (“all my pretty chickens” – a fruitful image of many that are lost); Young Siward, a debutante soldier on a combat mission with his father; the 3 frightening apparitions shown to Macbeth by the Wyrd Sisters are all characterized in the text as children, bloodied babes; the line of apparitions that then torment him with the future image of Banquo’s succession are all children, the 8th holding “a glass that shows me many more”; the Sisters even throw in the finger of a “birth-strangled babe” to create these visions; and Macbeth and Lady Macbeth themselves reference their own fathers at key moments of intense pressure. All of these children are either victims of murder, accused of murder or become the motivation for homicidal acts.

And, finally, the play’s fate is determined by an extraordinary motif of childbirth – that “none of woman born shall harm Macbeth”. The linking of children and death reaches its apex as we learn that Macduff is essentially born of a dead woman, “untimely ripped” by a bloody emergency Caesarian from his mother’s womb. In essence, as in all tragedy, Macduff’s birth equals Macbeth’s death – it is his fundamental purpose. Just as Hamlet is born on the day his father kills the old King of Norway, only to die 30 years later on the very day that King of Norway’s son takes Hamlet’s throne - repudiation for an ancient crime. It is the perfect and beautiful arc of tragedy. It is among Shakespeare’s most inspiring gifts that he can sustain a motif or poetic idea with such consistency and skill through a story. His exploration of the ‘child’ and the notion of birth and parenthood in Macbeth is one of its great threads.

Every production needs to determine what the ‘3 witches’ represent. We have approached our vision of the Wyrd Sisters in this production as an element of this story of lost children. It is interesting that they are never called ‘witches’ in the text, only in one second-hand reported comment by a character not appearing in the story – “Aroint thee witch, the rump-fed runyon cries”, with a grudge because they asked for food. In a play full of ghosts and apparitions, an image emerged for us of dead children on the roads of war who come to Macbeth to work out on some level the detective story of their own deaths – moving freely through ‘time’, which is possibly the central theme of this great play. Their verse and language is different to any other poetry in the play, using the same tetrameter we associate with children’s songs and nursery rhymes. We also took an interest in the word sisters, members of the same family, three daughters of Macduff who go on a journey that culminates in their father revenging their own murders.

The emotional pay off from Shakespeare is that at the centre of this world of families and children is a childless couple, the Macbeth’s. They are surrounded by virility and progeny. Their ‘child’ is the last in this litter of infants that haunt the play. “I have given suck and know how tender ‘tis to love the babe that milks me”, says Lady Macbeth. Many explanations for this comment have been sought by critics and theorists but the simplest sense is that we meet a couple who have lost a child, how recently is unknown and open to choice. She invokes the child at her two most critical moments of persuasion – once to herself, once to her husband. The killing of Macduff’s brood of little children is an act that bears no relation to any political or protective need of Macbeth’s. He needs fear nothing of them. He does it after being haunted by Banquo’s children, not Macduff’s. He does it because “he has no children”, therefore no-one else will.

At War With Time
Children are many things to us – most importantly the objects of our most unconditional love. But they are also our only successful weapon in the great war against time, and time is perhaps the most important force in Macbeth, and certainly one of Shakespeare’s most obsessive themes. Whether they are conscious of their infatuation with time is hard to know but Macbeth and his wife spend the play in a titanic struggle to control it - perhaps as a result of their own inability to replicate themselves, perhaps not. Barely a scene or a speech they make does not reference their wrestle with time and destiny.

“They met me in the day of success”, “Present fears are less than horrible imaginings”, “Thy letters have transported me beyond this ignorant present and I feel now the future in the instant”, “here, but here, on this bank and shoal of time, we’d jump the life the come”, “all our days and nights to come”, “had I but died an hour before this chance I had lived a blessed time”, “Time, thou anticipates my dread exploits”, “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow”…the list goes on. Their desire is to halt time when it suits them, to jump through time beyond natural consequence when it suits, to protect themselves from its ravages and from the acts they commit. It is the delusion for which they pay a price of sleeplessness and childlessness, forever trapped in the same day, all their “yesterdays” leading to “dusty death”. It is little wonder that when Macduff kills Macbeth, he says, “The time is free”. When Duncan makes his son the Prince of Cumberland (heir to the throne), Macbeth is forced to break the chain of time, to step between the order of things and make Malcolm’s “time” evaporate. The cogs only grind forward again when Macbeth is destroyed.

The feverish relationship to time is a remarkable observation Shakespeare makes of tyranny and the nature of tyrants. The events of the current Arab Spring and the demise of countless dictators over the past 100 years have carried a strong feeling of time being somehow captured or suppressed or stifled by the tyrant. Gaddafi most recently met his end to choruses of Lybian citizens and newspapers, along with western journalists, responding with the idea that Libya has been in a timelock for 40 years under his rule, with no thought for the future, only survival in the present moment. Radio ABC 702 today headlined with the statement, “How does Italy free itself from years of living on Berlusconi-time?”

To further explore the notion of birth and maternity, and also as a company policy to try to redress the inequality between men and women’s roles in Shakespeare, we have made our Duncan a Queen, a mother to Malcolm and to her suffering country. It is interesting that after her death, Ross says Scotland, can no longer “be called our mother but our grave”. The death of Duncan is such an expected early plot point in this play that the terrible crime of it often passes us by I think. We hope that by reimaging the figure as a woman and a mother, the nature of the Macbeth’s first terrible act is re-awoken for what it is, a sickening crime, so sickening that Lady Macbeth, as she admits, is unable to carry it out herself. And one from which this childless couple never recover.

Director's Note

(No director's note available for this production)

Production Trailer

Production Reviews

Production Gallery

  • Amanda Stephens-Lee | The Queen / Lady Macduff

  • Amy Mathews | Lady Macbeth

  • Barry French | Thane of Ross / Sinel

  • Bella Macdiarmid | Wyrd Sisters 

(The Leura Shakespeare Festival)

  • Christopher Stalley | Young Ross

  • Christopher Tomkinson | Macduff

  • Damien Ryan | Macbeth

  • Danielle King | Lady Lennox

  • Edmund Lembke-Hogan | Soldier

  • Eloise Winestock | Wyrd Sisters

(Sydney Hills Shakespeare in the Park)

  • Eric Beecroft | Malcolm

  • James Lugton | Second Murderer / Bleeding Sergeant

  • Lizzie Schebesta | Wyrd Sisters

  • Matt Edgerton | Banquo / Doctor

  • Michael Cullen | Seyton

  • Sam Hulston | Fleance

  • Stacey Duckworth | Wyrd Sisters

  • Terry Karabelas | Angus

  • Anna Gardiner | Costume Designer

  • Anne-Maree Magi | Front of House Manager

  • Barry French | Set Construction

  • Christopher Stalley | Design Co-ordinator

  • Damien Ryan | Director

  • David Stalley | Videography

  • Jeremy Page | Technical Manager/Operator

  • Jess Martin | Stage Manager 


  • Kelly Ukena | Production Manager

  • Kyle Rowling | Fight Director

  • Lizzie Schebesta | Dance Choreography

  • Matt Edgerton | Assistant Director

  • Nick Catran | Properties Construction

  • Oliver Burton | Business Manager

  • Ruth Horsfall | Stage Manager

  • Sarah Grimaldi | Assistant Costume Construction

  • Toby Knyvett | Lighting Designer

  • Tom Allum | Sound Designer

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