‘It will have blood’: Macbeth in Czech

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Cesky Krumlov

The audience began to revolve immediately the lights went down. Our entire bank of seating slowly turned 360 degrees, and we were invited to look at impressions of what was to follow: burning stumps of trees, the Weird Sisters walking towards us, Lady Macbeth standing on the steps of the castle.

This was ‘Macbeth’ as I have never seen it before: an epic heroism all served up with a relentless, operatic inevitability as the audience revolved from one scene to the next, without an interval, for about an hour an three-quarters.

Watching Shakespeare in another language (this was Martin Hilsky’s translation into Czech) forces you to ‘read’ the play internally as it progresses. Occasionally the lines of Czech crackled with flashes of Shakespeare’s original in tempo or repetition. Then there is the delight of seeing how another culture visually interprets the lines. Macbeth knelt to wash his bloody hands in a large puddle when he considered how they would the ‘multitudinous seas incarnardine’; Lady Macbeth’s brief four-line soliloquy beginning  ‘naught’s had, all’s spent’ was given pride of place half way up the castle steps.

This was ‘location’ meets what I have started to call ‘event Shakespeare’. The backdrop of trees, hedges and pathways from the Renaissance castle gardens (and the castle itself) were augmented by fire installations, a burning cross, bodies travelling with flaming torches, longish entrances (for example the murderer of the pregnant Lady Macduff appearing first through some distant trees) and a sweeping soundscape.

This was a ‘Macbeth’ as much ‘about’ the Weird Sisters as the main protagonists. They accompanied Macbeth as he saw the bloody dagger, they were seen momentarily tearing out the murdered Banquo’s entrails, and they appeared body-stockinged as grotesque nudes for their Witches’ Sabbath and spell-casting. The apparitions they conjured for Macbeth resonated with the kind of imaginatively bold choices which characterised the whole production: so, we saw a woman burst a bag of water and remove a baby from it for ‘none of woman born shall harm thee’, a burning tree warned Macbeth about Birnam Wood, and ‘the seed of Banquo’ walked down the castle steps from the place which earlier had been established as King Duncan’s bedchamber.

All of this took place in the castle grounds of Cesky Krumlov, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and came at the end of the week-long World Shakespeare Congress in Prague.

Now it’s back to Stratford, with the ‘doubtful joy’ I have long valued about ‘Macbeth’ fully restored.

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Author:Paul Edmondson

Head of Research and Knowledge and Director of the Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry Festival for The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Follow Paul on Twitter @paul_edmondson

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