“It is a one in a lifetime chance to see something that you would never ordinarily see,” says director Robert Richmond, who is helming a very unique Restoration-era version of Macbeth, starring Ian Merrill Peakes and Kate Eastwood Norris as the ultimate, bloodthirsty power couple. The production launches the Folger’s season on Tuesday.
“In the 17th century, Shakespeare’s plays were changed to suit what they thought was the general appetite at the time,” continues Richmond, discussing the play’s adaptation by Restoration poet William Davenant. “Macbeth has been changed in as much that some of the roles are larger, and some of the roles that don’t speak to each other — Lady Macbeth and Lady MacDuff — have a whole conversation. The witches sing and dance. Macbeth would have been much more of an evening of full entertainment, music, singing, dancing, and would have special effects. It would have been sort of the Steven Spielberg movie of its time.”
To assist, Richmond is taking full advantage of the Folger’s scholarly resources. “We have [consulted with] ten international scholars on Restoration drama and Restoration music,” he says, noting that the venerated Folger Consort is performing the show’s music. “[Seventeenth century composer] John Eccles wrote an entire score for the original performances, which, of course, we’re using. In addition, Robert Eisenstein, who is the Consort leader, has found period Scottish music to go along with the theme.”
For the production’s setting, Richmond opted for madness. “Restoration actors gestured a lot,” he says. “So in order to get a physical style of acting that will be unique to this production, I decided to set this particular Macbeth in the London institution of Bedlam — the madhouse — in 1666, two weeks after the fire of London. The idea is that the inmates of Bedlam are putting on the play Macbeth [to raise funds to rebuild the asylum]…. I thought, ‘What if the inmates of Bedlam perform a real murder inside of this play on stage, what happens to the world then?’ Everything changes. Wind sweeps in, we turn to sepia tones, there’s a big old switch in acting styles, and suddenly we’re in the reality of Macbeth inside this institution.”
Richmond feels Shakespeare’s tragedies are more relevant today than ever, given the world’s political turmoil. “The humanity embedded into these plays is remarkable,” he says. “What Shakespeare shows us is examples of what we were and what we maybe should not become in the future. I think they are all cautionary tales in one way or another.”
Macbeth runs Sept. 4 to 23 at the Folger Theatre, 201 E. Capitol St. SE. Tickets are $42 to $79. Call 202-544-7077 or visit folger.edu.