Seen Live & First Lines: Macbeth

One of the things on my list of 100 things to do before the Grim Reaper comes to claim me was seeing a play by Shakespeare. It’s addictive. While it’s no goal to see all plays, by now I have seen three: Richard III, A Midsummernight’s Dream—with a storm scene that is one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen in a theater. This year this production is on tour in The Netherlands: go see it—and Macbeth by Toneelgroep Amsterdam was the third.

While I was vaguely familiar with the plot, I hadn’t actually read the play. I mean to bust out my copy of The Complete Works, but I never got ’round to it. Lugging that book around isn’t exactly an option, so the night before I downloaded a pretty decent ebook version, put that on my ereader, and the next day I kept on reading until the play started.

In short, Macbeth is the story of a Scottish noblemen who becomes king and goes mad with power. And then there’s witches dancing ’round a cauldron while chanting spells that any self-respecting black metal band should have appropriated by now:

Round about the cauldron go;
In the poison’d entrails throw.
Toad, that under cold stone
Days and nights has thirty-one
Swelter’d venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot.

Double, double, toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
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.

Double, double, toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,
Witches’ mummy, maw and gulf
Of the ravin’d salt-sea shark,
Root of hemlock digg’d i’ the dark,
Liver of blaspheming Jew,
Gall of goat, and slips of yew
Silver’d in the moon’s eclipse,
Nose of Turk and Tartar’s lips,
Finger of birth-strangled babe
Ditch-deliver’d by a drab,
Make the gruel thick and slab:
Add thereto a tiger’s chaudron,
For the ingredients of our cauldron.

Double, double, toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Cool it with a baboon’s blood,
Then the charm is firm and good.

How awesomely wicked is that. Throw some evil riffs against that and, by the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes. Anyway.

Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s production, well, at first it was hard to keep up. Some actors played multiple roles, sometimes within the same scene. Some characters were only implied. And then I got the hang of it. The setting was sparse but effective, and in the end all that’s left was one big bloody mess. Murder, blood, madness, and wicked witches. What’s not to like? (The Rabozaal of Amsterdam’s Stadsschouwburg. No legroom for people who have long legs that just won’t stop, that’s what.)

Seen live: Macbeth by Toneelgroep Amsterdam on August 17, 2011 at Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam. Director: Johan Simons. Translation: Hugo Claus. With Fedja van Huêt, Chris Nievelt, Hans Kesting, Fred Goessens and Roeland Fernhout.

Book read
William Shakespeare — Macbeth
First line
An open place. Thunder and lightning. Enter three WITCHES.
First Witch:
When shall we three meet again
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?