The Macbeths that went wrong
We all know the stories of productions of ‘the Scottish Play’ where things have gone awry. Even our own Access Manager, David Bellwood recalls a time in his past life as a performer when a friend dared to utter the word ‘Macbeth’ in the theatre and what happened as a consequence.
You might think that it’s always been cursed but critic Paul Menzer points out that the history of Macbeth’s supposed bad luck is relatively recent with there being no mention of a curse for the first 300 years of the play’s history. However, maybe it’s incidents like these that follow that have fuelled the flames of superstition.
On 20 August 1671, diarist and 3rd Baronet of Lamport, Thomas Isham, recorded a fatality at a showing of Macbeth:
It is reported that Harris has killed his associate actor, in a scene on the stage, by accident. It was the tragedy of ‘Macbeth,’ in which Harris performed the part of Macduff, and ought to have slain his fellow-actor, Macbeth; but during the fence it happened that Macduff pierced Macbeth in the eye, by which thrust he fell lifeless, and could not bring out the last words of his part.
In 1688, the dramatic biographer and critic, Gerard Langbaine witnessed another Macbeth that didn’t go to plan:
At the Acting of this Tragedy, on the Stage, I saw a real one acted in the Pit; I mean the Death of Mr. Scroop, who received his death’s wound from the late Sir Thomas Armstrong, and died presently after he was remov’d to a House opposite to the Theatre in Dorset-Garden.
And finally actor Frank Benson recalls a performance in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1900 where ‘everything went wrong’, from drunken actors to prop mishaps, lighting errors, and mistimed curtains.
We’ll find out the truth about curses from 7 November when Macbeth opens in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.
Macbeth, 2016 by Marc Brenner