Saturday, 12 January 2013

Memories of Mackers

When I was seventeen, my Grade Twelve literature class had a field trip to go see Roman Polanski's infamous version of Macbeth which was playing at a local cinema as part of a Shakespeare-on-film festival with matinees for school groups.

When Polanski made this flick, it was only a year or so after his wife had been butchered, among others, by Charles Manson's disciples in Los Angeles. On top of this, Polanski added in images born of his boyhood memories of the Nazi persecution of Jews, including his own family, in Poland. This version of Macbeth omitted no opportunity for horror: the Thane of Cawdor was executed before our eyes, King Duncan's murder was shown in every gory detail, as was the rape and murder of MacDuff's household. Early on in the film, Macbeth and Duncan were having a little chat, while in the valley behind them, struggling men were being dragged to a huge gallows and strung up.

I spent most of the movie with my fingers in my ears and my head between my knees (I could do that when I was seventeen), but I could still hear the gasps and groans of my classmates. Plus sickening crunches.

The corker was when I emerged shaking into the lobby where a knot of girls from my school were in deep conference, punctuated by "EEEEEW"s. When I got close enough to hear the discussion, my life changed. They were disgusted by the fact that the witches were naked. It was then I knew that something was fundamentally wrong with society. More than two hours of rape, decapitation, skewering, and they were upset by nude old women. I wish I could say that attitudes have changed in the intervening years.

Anyway, last week, I finally received my library hold on Patrick Stewart's recent portrayal of Macbeth. It was on PBS a couple of years ago, but I only managed to catch bits of it, enough to know that I'd like to see the whole thing. Unlike Polanski, Rupert Goold (who directed this for the Chichester Festival Theatre and eventually brought the production to Broadway before it was adapted and filmed for television) elects to suggest rather than show -- which can amplify the terror. The one aspect that is rather more graphic than Polanski's version is in the interpretation of the witches who here are the Weird Nursing Sisters.

A YouTube contributor going by the handle tizerandchips has thoughtfully put together a comparison of our first glimpse of the witches from Polanski's version, Goold's version, and in the middle, from Australian Geoffrey Wright, three diabolical Melbourne schoolgirls.
Wow. After all that, we need to counteract the evil charms, don't we? Rather than sending you outside to turn around three times and spit, I offer my best-beloved scene from the third season of Black Adder where the Eighteenth Century incarnation of Edmund Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson) explains the "Scottish Play" superstition to Baldrick (Tony Robinson) and then puts two supercilious actors (Hugh Paddick and Kenneth Connor) through the wringer. Hugh Laurie is the baffled Prince George.

And as a final antidote, counter-curse, or what you will, this delightful ditty by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, the same team who brought us the hilarious and heart-breaking musical "The Drowsy Chaperone". This was the opening theme for the second season of "Slings and Arrows" - one of my favourite TV series ever, and is sung here by the late great Graham Harley:
Call me superstitious or cowardly or weak
But I'll never play a character
Whose name one dare not speak

I'll play Hamlet
In doublet and hose
Or either of the Dromeos
But sorry, I won't play Mackers

I'll play Richard the Third
With a hump and a wig
Or Henry the Eighth
That selfish pig
But sorry, I don't do Mackers

Every soul who plays this role
Risks injury or death
I'd rather sweep the bloody stage
Then ever do

So give me King Lear, Cleopatra,
Romeo, Juliet, Doesn’t mat-ra
I’ll play them all for free
But I’d be crackers
To take on Mackers
Y'see I’m skittish about the Scottish Tragedy


Rob said...

Did you notice that Jon Finch (Polanski's Macbeth) died at the end of December? The obituary I read mentioned that he turned down the chance to be James Bond (leaving the way clear for Roger Moore to get the gig). I remember seeing the Polanski when we were doing the play in school. I especially remember the sound of all the girls in the cinema giggling, and all the boys grunting sympathetically, during the climactic battle when somebody got battleaxed in the balls.

Persephone said...

Gosh, no, I didn't, Rob! (71! Gee!) It sounds like your school was tougher than mine; we were all pretty traumatized...