I just saw a play within a film on a movie screen. Maybe you’ve heard of it: Macbeth?

I just saw a play performed within a film on a movie screen. Maybe you’ve heard of it: Macbeth?

In DC, tickets to the sold-out play (run by The Shakespeare Theatre Company) were going for $500–1,200 on the secondary market. Tickets were $18 this weekend at the Angelika Theater in Merrifield, VA. I went to the movies to see a stage play.

I’ve seen plays from London’s West End at the movies: Henry V and Crazy Straight Lines. What a joy: To eat popcorn and chocolate while sitting in a comfortable movie lounge chair instead of a wooden seat or church pew.

So, does the play in a movie work? Hell yeah, it does.

Screen is a different medium than stage

On the screen, you see what the director shows you. When Macbeth and Banquo are firing lines at one another, the director quick cuts between them, filling the screen with one man’s face. Or seeing each of the three witches deliver their lines. One by one by one. The action is live, but the film crew splices the scenes later.

Pros: Cameras come onto the stage and actors go into the audience. Movie watchers go with the cameras, deep into the stage, or follow the actors up the aisles into the audience. The audience is no longer a voyeur, watching an entire stage in one flat dimension. Fans now have the chance to run alongside Macbeth and his madness as if in the movie, too.

Lady Macbeth hijacked the production: Kneeling, stretching out her arms in agony and scraping her bloody palms across the stone floor. Out, damned spot! Out, I say!

Cons: Sometimes you need a break! The play is a lot of action and a lot of dialogue and drama. During the long scenes between the Schuyler Sisters in Hamilton, each character has their own narrative. Sometimes, you want to watch just one person at a time sing and saunter on their own path.

Roy Kent Witches: They’re here, they’re there…

Treats: A Shakespearean director has some latitude. In DC, Simon Godwin brought back the Three Witches throughout the play. On a movie screen, you can see their ghoul eyes with cadaver contact lenses. Heads up and you’ll see a Weird Sister just off the stage. And if you see one, well, look behind your chair for another.

Bummers: Women die in Shakespearean plays, but mostly off-stage. In Lear and Macbeth and Hamlet, someone (a man) walks on stage and says, “Oh yeah, she’s dead.” It’s time for some woke directors to bring the women back, front and center, for their big finishes.

Advantages: This production used an opaque screen to establish background action: Banquo’s ghost and the many hands representing the serfs in battle. On a stage, this is hard to follow. In a movie, the camera zooms, flashes, and darts to the next character. Feel, not show. Macbeth’s death is a crescendo of backlit headlights and cannonade. (Spoiler alert: Macbeth dies – it’s a tragedy)

Some of The Bard’s best one-liners

Jewels: Shakespeare wrote Macbeth around 1606 about Scotland in 1040. Only a strong script can hold up 500 years. This play has more memorable lines than Animal House:

  • Nothing in his life Became him like the leaving it
  • Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?
  • What’s done cannot be undone
  • Come to my woman’s breasts, And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers
  • If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well It were done quickly
  • I would, while it was smiling in my face, Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums, And dash’d the brains out, had I so sworn as you Have done to this
  • Is this a dagger which I see before me, The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee
  • There’s daggers in men’s smiles
  • Eye of newt and toe of frog, Wool of bat and tongue of dog Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting, Lizard’s leg, and howlet’s wing, For a charm of powerful trouble, Like a hell-broth boil and bubble
  • What, all my pretty chickens and their dam At one fell swoop?
  • Till Birnam wood remove to Dunsinane, I cannot taint with fear
  • To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day To the last syllable of recorded time, And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage And then is heard no more: it is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing
  • Macduff was from his mother’s womb Untimely ripped

Note: I’ve always thought Shakespeare missed on this one – Macduff was born by caesarean section in the year 1000? The Bard would be better off w/ an Ironman analogy.)

– Tom Sakell

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