Richard Lynch and Ffion Dafis will lead the cast in Shakespeare’s brutal tragedy Macbeth, translated to Welsh by the late Gwyn Thomas. The production will be broadcast live to venues, as part of Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru’s new venture, Theatr Gen Byw.
The supernatural elements – the involvement of witches, the occult, and an old Pagan world – are among the most interesting aspects of the play.
I’m quite sure that Shakespeare intended for this aspect to frighten his audience. Having decided to stage the work in one of our numerous Medieval castles, and visited a few of Edward the First of England’s castles on cold, wet afternoons as night fell, it became clear to me that these places were ideal for instilling fear. And I thought, regardless of the lack of comfort, compared with cosy, modern theatres, that staging this play on a dark midwinter’s night within the cold walls of one of these great castles, would create an interesting context and be a means of appreciating the work (and the historic site) anew.
Moreover, setting the play in its historical period, as it were – namely, Eleventh Century Scotland (the era of the historical King Macbeth), though Edward the First’s castles were built two centuries later – would, hopefully, give the audience a sense of being at the centre of the action, and in a more real way than watching the play in a theatre. It might also be a similar experience to stepping into a film; there have, of course, been several famous film versions of the play, and indeed, this production is also being shown in cinemas.
But, irrespective of the historical and supernatural elements, what message does Macbeth have for us today, here in Wales? And why translate it and perform it in the Welsh language?
This is one of the world’s most famous plays, and were one to ask anyone to name a play by Shakespeare, I’m quite sure that Macbeth would be, if not the top choice, among the top three at least. If one were then to ask about its main themes, most people, surely, would be able to name at least two quite confidently – ambition and power.
But how relevant to us common folk – as compared to those in lofty social and political positions, such as Macbeth himself – are these themes? I’m sure that all of us have at least wanted to have our own way at some point, or longed for something that would bring us greater contentment, if not enhance our social standing, and that someone else at times has stood in our way. Of course, Macbeth’s ambition to be king is rather extreme or unusual; but what made it such an all-consuming ambition? Indeed, he feels it so strongly that he is willing to murder those who thwart it. The witches, and his wife too, play their part, of course.
Yet is it not true to say that the seed of such a great ambition exists in Macbeth’s mind – even if it is not apparent to him – before the curtain raises on the play? Were we ourselves to happen upon circumstances which incited and bewitched us, might we too, one and all, relinquish our usual standards to realize our ambitions, be they great or modest, or apparent to us or not?
Macbeth, however corrupt, is a man, not a daemon, and his wife, and even the witches too, are flesh and blood, with aspirations and fears. And there are consequences to the actions of every man (and woman). When an opportunity presents itself to us, like Macbeth, we all have the choice on the one hand to grasp it in a fair and righteous manner, or on the other hand, to secure it more firmly or quickly by acting immorally. And once we begin our journey down that unrighteous path, it is then very hard to turn back. As Macbeth himself says, “Blood will have blood.” Shakespeare’s warning to us today, as to audiences in his own lifetime, is for us to pause and reflect when considering our aspirations at the crossroad between the righteous and unrighteous path.
When Macbeth yields to an unrighteous path to fulfil his aim or realize his ambition, there are dire consequences for his people and his county. But from Macbeth’s point of view, of course – though he teeters at first between taking action and not taking action, from one moment to the next – he believes that he is doing the right thing; or at least that this is owed or promised to him; this is his destiny.
There are such statesmen in this day and age, who are utterly convinced that they are ‘doing the right thing’ – though they have not, to my knowledge, been visited upon by witches – who appear unyielding, merciless, cruel at times, and whose actions have far-reaching – even dire – consequences as in the case of Macbeth’s Scotland. But in contrast to Eleventh Century Scotland, responsibility for our fate today rests with us, each and every one, as we, at the end of the day – and accepting, of course, that we, to a greater or lesser extent, are influenced and bewitched by the media, and even foreign governments, rumour has it – are the ones who hand to our politicians the right to represent us, and the power to act,
Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru will broadcast Macbeth, live via satellite, from Caerphilly Castle to venues across Wales on Tuesday 14 February. The company will broadcast live to Chapter (Cardiff), Pontio (Bangor), Galeri Caernarfon, Neuadd Dwyfor (Pwllheli), Theatr Colwyn (Colwyn Bay), Theatr Clwyd (Mold), Aberystwyth Arts Centre, Torch Theatre (Milford Haven), The Welfare Ystradgynlais, Taliesin Arts Centre (Swansea) and The Riverfront (Newport). This exciting new pilot venture aims to bring work presented by Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru at unique locations, to a wide audience. There will also be repeat screenings at many of the listed venues, and an additional three venues: Theatr Mwldan, (Cardigan), Theatr Ardudwy (Harlech) and CellB (Blaenau Ffestiniog), between February and April 2017.