Thursday, 19 April 2012

Macbeth in Croydon: Using my own words

The reason we need writers is because sometimes even the most eloquent of us have feelings and thoughts that we can’t express. We find someone who has written something that says what we are feeling and we empathise with it, we recommend that book, we perform that play, we ‘agree’ with that Guardian article and share it on Facebook.

But sometimes we can be guilty of trusting these writers too much and thinking they will instinctively see what we are trying to say and turn our stilted interview or clumsy press release into the words that are in our hearts. And by we, I mean me. I. I am guilty of that.

At the moment I am performing in a production of Macbeth with the Breakfast Cat theatre company. I’ve done some assistant directing of the production and lots of promotion for it. And I love it. I am so proud to be a part of this production because it is everything a Shakespeare production should be.

This production of Macbeth is set in Croydon during the riots last year. Because this is topical some of the local press have picked up on it and written stories and blog posts about it. All of this coverage is welcome because it all helps to spread the word about the production and we love it when local people are interested in what we are doing. But that doesn’t mean we have to like the coverage. Some of the stories have made me feel uneasy and a bit sick. One of them made me cry. But that isn’t their fault, it is mine.

The people writing these stories and those reading them and the people who read my tweets and emails about the production think that a Macbeth set during the riots is a novel idea. They think we are linking the production with certain specific violent episodes in Croydon to sell tickets, to make a point about Croydon. That isn’t it. They have missed the point because they have not yet seen the play and I have not been clever enough to explain to them why I think this production is great, not because I am involved with it but because I love it. If someone else had created it I would love it too.

To help me explain this I am going to use a clever writer’s words again. Here is Tim Minchin, who I adore beyond all reason:

The point is that humans are humans. Macbeth is not about some Scottish bloke in a field wanting to be king. If it was we would not still be performing it today and Paul would not have been so excited to direct it. It is about that feeling you get when your world is being pulled apart and nothing is certain any more. My character says in the play “Cruel are the times when we are traitors and do not know ourselves. When we hold rumour from what we fear, yet know not what we fear but float upon a wild and violent sea each way and move.”

Because Shakespeare was a clever and eloquent writer, those words portray exactly how a medieval Scottish Thane would feel if his king, who he thought was God’s representative on earth, was violently murdered. And then succeeded by a man who the Thane has previously thought was a great guy but was now systematically killing all their mates and shouting about ghosts over dinner.

But because Shakespeare was a genius those words also describe how I felt as a Croydon resident when the riots happened last year. I was angry. I was sad about a negative image of our town being confirmed. I was confused about whose side I was on and I was frightened because our house smelled of smoke and the world was burning down.

That’s why I believe that by setting Shakespeare in our own time in a tragedy that we lived through we are doing it right. There is no point performing Macbeth in Scotland hundreds of years ago because you are taking what the play is about, the feelings and human reactions and distancing your audience from them by hundreds of miles and hundreds of years.

I’m sorry, and I wish I had written this blog sooner, to tell you in my own words on my own blog why you should come and see the show. But it is not too late, you have until Saturday to come and see us!

Come and judge us for yourselves. And please don’t judge us merely on our acting, we are non-professional actors doing our best to do this play justice, (although happily many of the cast are brilliant actors too!) Judge us on our decisions, on our ideas and on our passion.

Above all, don’t judge us on the articles and don’t judge us on this blog. The play’s the thing wherein we’ll catch the conscience of the king.


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