I am aware that the expression is actually ‘Love/Hate’ but my relationship with the Scottish play began with hate. You see, like millions of others I had to read it for my GCE (which for my younger readers I should explain, was what the GCSE used to be called). In fact I was among the very privileged few at my school who got to take a GCE, the main exams that my peers and I sat were the CSE’s which were for the students not quite up to taking the GCE. Although I’m sure it was really the school itself that wasn’t up to putting its students through the GCE exams and just hoped a few might scrape through the easier CSE course with acceptable grades.
The small group of around 20 students selected to attempt the GCE English Literature exam were instructed to read Shakespeare’s Macbeth, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and a book of 20 modern short stories. The teenage me didn’t appreciate any of them. In recent years I’ve warmed greatly to the modern short story – I’ve even been known to write one or two myself and one day I hope to write something good enough to be included in such a collection. Sadly The Lord of the Flies continues to defeat me. So what of Macbeth? Well the story as read at school, as studied in intimate detail, just never came alive for me, yet of all the Shakespeare plays that I’ve seen or read (and there are many that I have yet to see or read) this is the one with all the action, all the passion, all the horror. Over the years I resisted watching this play, on television and stage equally.
That was until one November night in 2002 when I read an interview with a new Lady Macbeth (Samantha Bond) who spoke about her role in a new production and the passionate relationship between Lady Macbeth and her husband. In the interview Ms Bond said she was suffering bruised lips – and they were still in rehearsals! The person responsible for those bruised lips was none other than the gorgeous Sean Bean. For the first time ever I simply had to see Macbeth.
I wasn’t disappointed. Sean Bean was amazing; the whole play was incredible. Macbeth’s , “Is this a dagger I see before me?” soliloquy was delivered by a bare-chested Sean to a silent audience, it was as if everyone held their breath while watching the lone Macbeth on the stage, chest heaving as he breathed heavily to project the lines of the long monologue. At the banquet Banquo’s ghost appeared so unexpectedly that the audience gasped in horror in unison and when Macduff’s family were slaughtered the woman sitting next to me sobbed into her hands, such was the realism.
That night I was converted. Thanks Sean!
And the story continues. On Friday night I attended another production of Macbeth. This time it was a school production, an excellent and very imaginative production set in modern day Iraq with the action on the stage interspersed with newsreel footage projected onto the backdrop.
Next summer I’m told our local amateurs will be performing the Scottish play at the open air theatre. I can tell you now I’ll be there. And while I don’t expect to ever witness a performance to match Sean Bean’s I will take every opportunity to see this play in the future.