Staging Macbeth for school

Graeme, James, Jack, Elexi & Carys rehearse – Mabeth

We don’t normally do Shakespeare, we’re not that kind of theatre company, but for our friends at Saltley Academy all kinds of exceptions are made. Since 2016 we have helped successive Year 8s stage The Tempest, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merchant Of Venice and Othello. Macbeth was postponed from 2020 to this summer and with social distancing measures still in force it was decided that rather than the students performing the play we should. What fun we had!

Craig had already compressed the original text to a Year 8 friendly length so the next step was to divide this so a cast of four could perform it without tragedy degenerating into farce.

Anxious to maximise the students’ connection to the play, our production and us we worked on new ways for them to collaborate with us. On Day 2 and Day 3 of rehearsals we went into school and each of the nine English classes took it in turns to direct us in a different scene. Students made props and drew or painted elements of scenery. Two different students played MacDuff’s son and we gained a particularly excellent second murderer to save Jack from having to do the deed. For one of the three performances we also gained three extra Thanes in banquet scene. From Day 4 onwards we posted brief video diary entries summarising rehearsals for students to watch in their English lessons.

Normally we take the students to perform at Shakespeare’s New Place in Stratford-Upon-Avon after which they explore the town, but as New Place was off-limits this year all the fun had to be school based. On the two performance days a slush machine was installed in the school hall and students worked up their own four minute long versions of the play. During the interval of our 90 minute long production EVERYONE got an ice-cream.

It was fantastic to be back in a rehearsal room working together. When compressed to 90 minutes Macbeth rockets past at an exhilarating lick, characters absorb turns of fortune in a line or two and move on a line or two later. With so much cut out famous speeches and phrases come at an astonishing rate. We revelled in the story, language and allusions, but with just ten days rehearsal there was barely any time for chin stroking so there was a great sense of drive every day.

For five days, with Graeme self-isolating, we got onto more familiarly experimental territory. Graeme’s performance was streamed into the rehearsal room via a laptop, he voiced a body-double (often me) and watched the results from where I usual sit. Maybe this is a technique to be returned to at some point…

Graeme was released for the first day of performance, having missed the get in and tech set up. I went into self-isolation for the second day of performance, so Dave stepped in to operate Luke & Chrissie’s bespoke sound cues and Graeme’s penance for missing so much manual labour was to take my place putting everything back into storage with Craig.

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