What do we see when we see Macbeth? | Andrew Dickson on Shakespeare’s supernatural tragedy

With Carrie Cracknell and Lucy Guerin’s production of Macbeth now playing in our Main House (until 23 Jan), Andrew Dickson discusses Shakespeare’s supernatural tragedy. 

What do we see when we see Macbeth? All Shakespeare’s plays are many-faceted; Macbeth is almost agonisingly so. To watch the play is to puzzle at the multiplying questions it raises. What really impels the hero? Straightforward lust for power and blood, or are there more mysterious forces at work? What drives on his wife, and their relationship, simultaneously so loving (“dearest chuck …”) and yet so coldly brutal? Do we believe Lady Macbeth when she claims to have “given suck” to a child (their child? what has happened to it?), and yet also that she would “dash the brains out” in an instant? Like the “fatal vision” of a dagger that teases and torments Macbeth on his way to Duncan’s chamber, the answers hover just out of reach. We have them, and we have them not.

Anna Maxwell Martin and John Heffernan in rehearsal for Macbeth. Photo by Richard Hubert Smith (2).jpg

Anna Maxwell Martin and John Heffernan in rehearsal for Macbeth. Photo by Richard Hubert Smith.

It might be said that such instabilities are encoded in the play’s DNA. Macbeth is a drama of weaselling words, of language blurred and intentions obscured, even from the people who harbour them. Macbeth himself is surely right to state at the outset that, if the Witches are right and that everything is pre-ordained, “chance may crown me | Without my stir” – but why, then, does he leave nothing to chance, murdering everyone who stands in his way? One thinks of his soliloquy early in the play, which begins “If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well | It were done quickly …” So apparently straightforward to begin with – “it” being Duncan’s murder – the words begin to clot and congeal in Macbeth’s mouth even as he speaks them.

Macbeth is unusual among Shakespeare’s plays in existing in only one text, which was printed after his death in the 1623 First Folio, the earliest collected edition of his works. But it shows signs of having been edited during his lifetime, perhaps by his younger colleague Thomas Middleton, who gave the Weird Sisters a pair of musical numbers and added scenes in which the goddess Hecate appears on stage. These adjustments were most likely made for a revival, perhaps around 1613. Restaging the play in the 1660s, William Davenant offered an “improved” version in which the Witches not only sang, but flew across the stage, and which underlined the hero’s similarity to the dastardly Oliver Cromwell. Pepys enjoyed the production so much that he saw it eight times.

It is easy to scoff at such reworkings, but the play has never stayed quite the same. The great actor-impresario David Garrick restored much of Shakespeare’s text in 1744, including the death of Lady Macduff and her children, but found it too much of a wrench to give up Davenant’s Witches, and wrote a new closing soliloquy for himself in the lead (“I dare not ask for mercy – | It is too late, hell drags me down …”). For Charles Macklin a generation later, Macbeth was chiefly an opportunity to show off “authentic” Highland dress.

Members of the company in rehearsal for Macbeth. Photo by Richard Hubert Smith (3)

The Macbeth company in rehearsal. Photo by Richard Hubert Smith.

In the years since, Macbeth’s shape has kept shifting, particularly outside the close confines of the British theatrical tradition. Akira Kurosawa’s superlative cinematic rendition, Throne of Blood (1957), relocates the action to feudal Japan and retains not a single word of Shakespeare’s script; Welcome Msomi’s reworking, uMabatha (1970), imagines what the play might look like in traditional Zulu society. During the 1975 Emergency in India, the insurrectionary theatremaker Utpal Dutt, finding his own scripts banned, staged a Bengali version as direct protest against Indira Gandhi’s autocratic government. In China, a bleak Mandarin-language version by director Xu Xiaozhong appeared on stage four years after Chairman Mao’s death. To audiences who had lived through the Cultural Revolution, the echoes of a ravenously powerful leader “so steeped in blood” were too obvious to need pointing out.

All these Macbeths are different; all of them differently true to the play. Like every piece of living theatre, Macbeth will never be only one thing: every time we hold it up to the light it will refract something else. Who knows what strange images it will show us next?

Andrew Dickson’s Worlds Elsewhere: Journeys Around Shakespeare’s Globe is out now from Bodley Head

Macbeth plays in our Main House at the Young Vic until 23 January 2016. Book now.

11 Questions with the cast of Macbeth – Cassie Layton

7   Richard Hubert Smith (Cassie Layton  Mark Ebulue) (2)

Cassie Layton is currently or will be playing Lady MacDuff/Lennox in rehearsals for Macbeth at the Young Vic. Phot by Richard Hubert Smith.

Cassie Layton is currently or will be playing Lady Macduff/Lennox in Macbeth at the Young Vic. Here are her answers to our 11 Questions…

Can you describe your character in Macbeth in three words
Lennox: Boisterous agonised psycho.
Lady Macduff: Kind Warm Mother.

What are you usually doing 10 minutes before the show begins?
Spying in the wings to see what the audience looks like…

What is your favourite play (seen, read or worked on)?
Too many! A recent favourite was People Places and Things, particularly Denise Gough’s stellar performance in it!

What is your favourite midnight snack?
I don’t usually ever eat at midnight, normally if I do it’s because I’m drunk. If that’s the case, it’ll usually be chips from the nearest kebab shop!

What is your favourite word?
Too many! I do like the word “ubiquitous” – try and use that when I can…

What are you most passionate about?
Aside from acting and music, I am very passionate about people standing on escalators! I passionately disapprove of it! Unless you are impaired, injured or elderly, you should be walking!

Favourite holiday you’ve ever been on?
Walking the Haute route from Chamonix to Zermatt.

Favourite city and why?
Brighton! I want to live there when I’m older, it has sand, sea and sun, the south downs are beautiful, the night life is great, so many good places to eat and it’s a perfect place to raise a family.

What is your favourite song?
Blue by Joni Mitchell or Portrait of Tracy by Jaco Pastorius.

If you could have been born in any era, which would it be and why?The 50’s, so I could grow up in the 60’s and 70’s and listen to the best music and go to Woodstock and have the time of my life!

If you could have any one supernatural power which would you choose and why?
Always loved Bernard’s Watch growing up… Think I’d adjust it though, so I could not only stop time, but also rewind and fast forward time as well. I could be some weird time-crime hero, saving the world from disasters!

Macbeth runs at the YV until 23 Jan. Book tickets and find out more on our website.

Room 504 | A response to La Musica

Room 504 at Hampton by Hiltons

Room 504, designed by Emma Tompkins

“I love that I got to contribute to a new, live, breathing story and experience made for our wonderful participants. We could have made a hundred shows from the content we got, but I’m pretty proud of this one.” – Emma Tompkins, Designer on Room 504

Room 504 is a Taking Part response to our production of Marguerite Duras’ La Musica, directed by Jeff James. A lyrical and poignant study of the damage we inflict on those we love, La Musica tells the story of a couple who meet in the lobby of a hotel to finalise their divorce as well as reflect, with honesty, on the events that brought them to where they are now.

Working with participants for YV Taking Part’s Two Boroughs programme, writer James Fritz , director Anna Girvan and designer, Emma Tompkins (designer) devised Room 504 from four workshops. Exploring the personal stories that participants associated with hotels was, according to Anna, “a great jump off point into their life experiences all over the world and we learnt that people from completely different walks of life have unusual things in common.” All the participants spoke about precious objects, an element that Emma became interested in when considering the design of the space which in this case was modern, functioning hotel room in Waterloo – “I love that some of the participants have items filled with memories so precious to them that they are kept in a box by the door in case of emergency.”

The outcome of the workshops (hearing from nothing shy of 800 collective years of stories) was a 20 minute play beautifully written by James to be performed in the intimate space of a hotel room to an audience of four people at a time, over 8 performances – a challenge which delighted Anna who has “always been fascinated by voyeurism in theatre.” She told us that “there were so many fascinating stories and images to draw from but what was most important was that these 20 minutes were something that felt universal and encapsulated something about the function/nature/history or a hotel room and the people that inhabit it for a short time.”

Room 504 was performed by Rakie Ayola and Stephen Kennedy at Hamptons by Hilton, Waterloo on Nov 5th. For more info of YV Taking Part projects, got to: www.youngvic.org/taking-part


Room 504 Rehearsals with an audience of local community participants. Photo by Leon Puplett.

Room 504 rehearsals with an audience of local community participants

Room 504 rehearsals watched by an audience of workshop participants from our local community. Photo by Leon Puplett.

Casting Announcement | Bull’s return to the YV

Following a sold-out run and an Olivier Award, Clare Lizzimore’s riveting production of Mike Bartlett’s Bull (★★★★) returns to the Young Vic for a limited run with ringside standing as three employees fight to keep their jobs. Get to know the cast below.
Due to phenomenal demand we’ve extended the run by one week and added an extra performance on Christmas eve. Book now.

max bennettMAX BENNETT
Theatre includes:Tis Pity She’s A Whore (Sam Wanamaker Playhouse); King Lear (Chichester Festival Theatre/BAM New York); Relatively Speaking (Wyndham’s); A Time to Reap, Posh, In Basildon (Royal Court); The Promise, Luise Miller (Donmar Warehouse); A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Headlong); Fabrication (Affabulazione) (The Print Room); Danton’s Death (National Theatre); Mrs. Warren’s Profession (Comedy Theatre); Measure for Measure (Plymouth Theatre Royal/UK Tour); Waste (Almeida); Romeo and Juliet (Theatre Of Memory); Thyestes (Battersea Arts Centre); Finisterre (Theatre 503); The Herbal Bed (Salisbury Playhouse) and Cymeline (Cambridge Arts Theatre).
Film includes: Set the Thames on Fire, Anna Karenina, The Sweeney, The Numbers Station, The Duchess and 99 Francs.
Television includes: Saving Hope, The Hollow Crown II, Endeavour, Midsomer Murders and Big Bad World.
Radio includes: Heart of Darkness and Beau Geste.

susannah fielding

Theatre includes: The Beaux Stratagem, The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other, Much Ado About Nothing, Philistines, The Rose Tattoo (National Theatre); The Merchant of Venice (winner of Ian Charleson Award), American Psycho (Almeida); A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Noel Coward); Trelawny of the Wells (Donmar Warehouse); School for Scandal (Theatre Royal, Bath); All New People (West End and tour); The Merchant of Venice (RSC) and An Enemy of the People (nominated for Ian Charleson Award) (Sheffield Crucible).
Film and Short Film includes: 4-3-2-1, First night, She Stoops to Conquer, The Batsman & The Ballerina and Watching.
Television includes: I Want My Wife Back, Catastrophe (Series 2), Scrotal Recall, Death in ParadiseThe C Word, Boomers, The Great Fire, Drifters, Father Brown, The Job Lot, A Nice Arrangement, Uncle, Pramface (Series 2), Jo, Pete Vs Life (Series 1&2), The Paul Andrew Williams show, Midsomer Murders, Dr Who, Filth and Wallander.

nigel lindsay

Theatre Credits Include: Speed-The-Plow (Playhouse); A Small Family Business, The Pillowman, London Cuckolds, Blue Remembered Hills, Dealer’s Choice (also Vaudeville) (National Theatre); Richard II (RSC); The Same Deep Water As Me, The Real Thing (also Albery, Broadway), Morphic Resonance (Donmar Warehouse); Shrek the Musical (Dreamworks/Theatre Royal, Drury Lane; nominated for Olivier and What’s On Stage Awards, Best Actor in a Musical); Broken Glass (Tricycle; winner of What’s On Stage Award, Best Supporting Actor); Sucker Punch, The Woman Before, Push Up, King Lear (Royal Court) Under the Blue Sky (Duke of York’s); The Homecoming, Awake and Sing(nominated for What’s On Stage Award, Best Supporting Actor), Romance, The Earthly Paradise, The Tower (Almeida); Guys and Dolls (Piccadilly) World Music, Hamlet (Sheffield Crucible); The Tempest (Old Vic); Bedroom Farce (Aldwych), Katerina (Lyric Hammersmith) and Anna Karenina (Shared Experience).
Film includes: Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, Breakfast With Johnny Wilkinson, Four Lions (nominated for British Comedy Award for Best British Comedy Performance in Film), First Night, Scoop, Mike Bassett: England Manager, Blackball, On A Clear Day and Rogue Trader.
Television includes: Victoria (2016), Death In Paradise (Series 5), The Devil You Know, You, Me And The Apocalypse, Foyle’s War, Poirot: The Labours Of Hercules, Gifted, The Tunnel, The Fear, George Gently (Series 6), Best Of Men, Mid Morning Matters With Alan Patrtridge, Spooks (Series 9), Silent Witness, Waking The Dead, The Relief Of Belsen, Rome, Jam And Jerusalem, Ok Corral, All About George, New Tricks, The Bill, Tunnel Of Love, Frances Tuesday, Murphy’s Law, My Family, Casualty, I’m Alan Patrtidge, Midsomer Murders, The Armando Iannucci Show, Too Much Sun, Déjà Vu, A Dance to the Music of Time, Harbour Lights, Bye Bye Baby, Brass Eye, Dressing For Breakfast (Series 1-3), A Few Short Journeys Of The Heart and Between The Lines.

marc woottonMARC WOOTTON
Theatre includes: The Same Deep Water As Me (Donmar Warehouse); A Midsummer Night’s Dream (RSC) and Seasons’s Greetings (National Theatre).
Film includes: Bad Education: The Movie, Nativity 3, The Harry Hill Movie, Nativity 2, Arthur Christmas,  Nativity, Frequently Asked Questions about Time Travel and Confetti.
Television includes: High and Dry, Psychobitches, Drunk History, Inside Number 9, Way to Go, Delocated, La La Land (winner of Rose d’Or Award), Marc Wootton Exposed, Gavin & Stacey, Nighty Night, High Spirits with Shirley Ghostman, French & Saunders, The Pilot Show, My New Best Friend (winner of British Comedy Award and Rose d’Or Golden Rose Award), Cyderdelic: The Revolution Will Be Televised (winner of BBC2 Green Light Award) and The 11 O’Clock Show.

Bull return to the YV on 11 Dec and runs until 16 Jan 2015. Get close to the action with Ringside Standing tickets for just £10. For more info / to book tickets: www.youngvic.org/whats-on/bull

A Supporting Wall / Young Vic co-production.

Click here to see what audiences said about the show in 2014.

11 Questions with the cast of Measure for Measure – Sarah Malin


Sarah Malin in Measure for Measure at the Young Vic. Photo by Keith Pattison.

Sarah Malin is currently playing Escalus in Measure for Measure at the Young Vic. Here are her answers to our 11 Questions…

Can you describe your character in Measure for Measure in three words?
Authoritative, harassed, efficient.

What are you usually doing 10 minutes before the show begins?
Singing to Duncan, who checks the mics.

What is your favourite play (seen, read or worked on)?
The Winter’s Tale.

What is your favourite midnight snack?
Coca and toast.

What is your favourite word?
Gusset or rebarbative.   

What are you most passionate about?
Feminism, my children and stories.

If you could be in a room full of any one thing, what would it be?
Books and cheese. Cheesy book and Michael Fassbender.

Favourite holiday you’ve ever been on?
Camping in France last year.

What is your favourite song?
Grapefruit Moon by Tom Waits.

If you could have been born in any era, which would it be and why?
A flapper hit, only if I could be Daisy in the Great Gatsby. The Parties.

If you could have any one supernatural power which would you choose and why?
Flying. It looks like fun and I’d never be late.

Measure for Measure runs at the YV until 14 Nov. Book tickets and find out more on our website.

Macbeth Parallel Production


The company for Parallel Macbeth. Photo by Leon Puplett.

Parallel Productions are a vital part of the work of our Taking Part team. A group of young people is given the chance to collaborate with a director (in this case, Caroline Byrne) to make their own version of one of the shows we are producing. It gives the young people involved a real insight into the play and what it is like to work in the theatre; empowering them and helping them find new aspirations.

This time we’re creating a Parallel Macbeth, in response to our main house production which opens later this month. This parallel company is exploring themes around borders, territory and statelessness by experimenting with form and using movement and music to tell the story. There are 16 of them, all aged between 14-21. Some of them are young refugees. We particularly wanted to work with young refugees in light of the ongoing migrant crisis and because we wanted to explore ideas around borders, territory and statelessness through the story of Macbeth. What stands out for all of us is the relevance of the play to what is going on in the world right now.

The young people are very talented; the singers, musicians and artists speak over 16 languages between them. Some of them have worked with the Young Vic in the past and for others it’s their first experience of participating with or going to any theatre.

Our rehearsals involve a lot of music, movement and improvisation and it feels like we’ve been working together as a company for a lot longer than a week!

Find out more about the work Taking Part do with our local community, schools and young people.


Photo by Leon Puplett.


Photo by Leon Puplett.


Photo by Leon Puplett.

11 Questions with the cast of Measure for Measure – Natalie Simpson

Natalie Simpson (Julietta) and Zubin Varla (The Duke) in Measure for Measure at the Young Vic. Photo by Keith Pattison

Natalie Simpson in Measure for Measure at the Young Vic. Photo by Keith Pattison.

Natalie Simpson is currently playing Julietta in Measure for Measure at the Young Vic. Here are her answers to our 11 Questions…

Can you describe your character in in three words?
Feisty, independent and unforgiving.

What are you usually doing 10 minutes before the show begins?
Having a wee.

What is your favourite play (seen, read or worked on)?
A Day in the Death of Joe Egg  by Peter Nichols.

What is your favourite midnight snack?
Almond butter and dates.

What is your favourite word?

If days were 28 hours long, what would you do with the 4 extra hours?
Read more and learn more skills (salsa, ballet).

If you could be in a room full of any one thing, what would it be?
Chicken wings.

Favourite city and why?
Bordeaux – first time I worked abroad!

What is your favourite song?
House of Cards by Radiohead.

If you could have been born in any era, which would it be and why?
Due to not wanting to be a slave, i’d say now…

If you could have any one supernatural power which would you choose and why?
Teleportation – I hate travelling from A to B, but I love visiting new places!

Measure for Measure runs at the YV until 14 Nov. Book tickets and find out more on our website.