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‘My voice is my sword’ – The Violence of Adaptation: ITD & Macbeth

13th February 2023 by Lauren Randall

Having just finished five weeks of rehearsal at Leeds Playhouse we now have a brief lull before we open Macbeth in Doncaster and Harrogate in the last week of February. It’s a unique position to be in because we usually rehearse and open a production in a continuous and somewhat frenetic period of theatre making. What this pause gives us is a space of reflection, a period, outside the rehearsal room, where we can nuance and tighten the work we have been making. And so, I write now, in this moment of repose.

The strange thing about theatre making is that despite all the best laid plans when you get into the rehearsal space it’s almost as if you are always starting from scratch. I sometimes think of the process as akin to a sculptor chipping away at a block of stone, a figure who slowly sees the shape of something emerging from the abstract materiality of marble or sandstone. A script is always kind of abstract until life is breathed into it in the space, by performers. And this is somewhat true of all the other materials we are engaging with to create the piece – the light, video, sound, movement, voice and so forth. And so, it’s been the same experience while rehearsing Macbeth. It’s been intense and highly pleasurable seeing the show emerge from its constituent parts; different energies and creativities converging to make something that stands on its feet in space and time.

Whilst making this work, I have been thinking a great deal about language and violence. In writing the adaptation and producing a parallel text that interweaves and sits alongside Shakespeare’s original, Pete (Brooks) and I have been intrigued how new writing and new storylines impact on the original verse. We’ve been surprised how the verse accommodates and exists comfortably within a framework that contains new text.  One of the things Pete and I have often discussed is how Shakespeare builds worlds through language – how metaphor, metonym, and the vivid imagery of his words conjure up an extraordinary world for the spectator to engage with. 

I suppose, given the scenographic limits of the Elizabethan stage, words were Shakespeare’s main storytelling instruments. What I have found fascinating is how we have reappropriated these words, these images, these worldbuilding fragments, in our adaptation. On reflection, I can see that in our version of Macbeth we are drawn to the swirling mass of digital information, what we often in rehearsal call digital detritus, in the same way that Shakespeare was drawn to the power in, and of, words. And we use this detritus in the same way Shakespeare engages with words: to world build.

We world build through our use of digital technology, the fusion and juxtaposition of image, sound and word. The stage space becomes awash with colour changes, shifts in sonic tempos and rhythms, with images that appear and disappear in equal measure. It’s like speaking in verse but through these other mediums. This explains why James Hamilton’s musical compositions, and his and Rory Howson’s sound design, Simon Wainwright’s and Davi Callanan’s images, Charlotte Dack’s costumes, and Andrew Croft’s lighting are equally important in our version.

Photo by Ed Waring

I have always felt intuitively that Macbeth is a play about violence, a work that explores the transgressive possibility of violence – not in its literal sense, I mean who wants to be an advocate for violence? Rather, in the violence of the imagination, a violence that sweeps aside the everyday, the ordinary and the mundane in order to see the world anew. Isn’t this the power of Shakespeare’s verse? Its pulsating, visceral nature, as it attempts to get at the impossible description, to those experiences that exist at the edges of sensibility?

Of course, in our version violence exists as an image, a sound, a punctuation point, that sits alongside the word. And I hope this device, this use of technology outside the word, is not ever illustrative. Shakespeare builds his textual images by referencing the world’s physicality, a physicality that could be imagined as lived experience by his spectators – this is why his language has such force.  

In our Macbeth we are attempting to create something equivalent within a contemporary scenographic organisation of materials. And this organisation is always suffused with violence, the dislocation of the words, images, sounds, and light from their usual and presumed organisation into something new and surprising. Of course, at this stage much of the above is written without knowing whether any of these somewhat abstract musings hit home with an audience. We’ll know so much more in two weeks’ time.  

But it’s lovely to have the luxury of reflection.

Andrew Quick

Photo by Ed Waring

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