International research project transforms Macbeth
Audiences at the Folger Theatre in Washington enjoyed the opening night of an unusual performance of Macbeth on 4 September, the result of an international research project.
Set in London’s Bedlam asylum, the Restoration-era version of Shakespeare’s tragedy features singing and dancing.
A poster from the Sir William Devenant production
The US production, which opened last night and runs until 23 September, is the highlight of a research project funded by UK Research and Innovation’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and Queen’s University Belfast.
Currently in year two of three, the Performing Restoration Shakespeare project, has brought together scholars and performing artists from several institutions to explore how Restoration versions of Shakespeare were originally performed – and how they can be performed again today.
‘Restoration’ refers to the period between 1660 and around 1688, when, after the English Civil War and the execution of Charles I, Charles II ‘restored’ the monarchical form of government.
“When these versions of Shakespeare's works were first performed in 1660 they were some of the first plays to be staged since the theatres were re-opened after their closure by the puritans in 1642,” says Queen's University Belfast's Professor Richard Schoch, who leads the project with partners including Shakespeare's Globe, The Folger Shakespeare Library (US) and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
“A whole generation had grown up without access to theatre. In that time, King Charles II had lived in continental Europe and seen European theatre, with its actresses playing female roles, big scenery – and music.
“Now he was back and he was right behind this celebration of everything theatre could do: Bigger and better than anything that had been put on before.”
The versions being performed were written by William Davenant, an English poet and playwright, who claimed to be Shakespeare's godson.
As well as adding music and scenery, his versions of Shakespeare's plays also made changes to their plots, and even invented new scenes.
One of the most radical aspects of the project is that scholars from several disciplines have been embedded from the start, right through rehearsals and up to the opening night.
“This is really innovative,” says Professor Schoch. “The performance arises from continual dialogue between academics and actors – the performance is a reflection of that dialogue. We are also working in feedback from performances we did at the Globe in London in 2017.”