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Macbeth Descends on Notre Dame

Michelle Fordice | Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Every year, the Actors from the London Stage grace the Notre Dame campus with a performance. This year, Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” will come to life in Washington Hall.

After more than 30 years, the Actors from the London Stage are one of the oldest touring Shakespeare companies in the world. They are associated with the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, which serves as their booking agent and home in the United States, but are actually housed and work in London. In addition to their performances, they visit and teach classes at universities. The actors hail from companies like the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. And since AFTLS performances do not use a director, the actors’ skill is on full display.

The Actors from the London Stage are recognized for their minimalist, but effective, production style. While “Macbeth” has more than 27 characters, the company will consist of only five actors (this year features Will Ashcroft, Brigid Zengeni, Chris Donnelly, Daniel Winter and Charlotte Allam).

Traditionally, the Actors from the London Stage keep the stage nearly bare; one of the only set pieces for their production of “Romeo and Juliet” was a standard ladder to serve as the famous balcony. The actors remain on stage for the entire performance, sitting at the back if they are not performing. Props are also kept to a minimum; the swords in last year’s production of “Hamlet” were symbolized by a glove on the actor’s hand. The actors wear basic, functional, modern clothing and simply add a small piece or prop to indicate the character they are portraying. With so few embellishments, the production is clean and remains centered on the acting and the words instead of the decoration.

Not only do the actors create their environment on the stage in front of the audience, they also try to involve their audience as much as possible. In many of the productions, the house lights are left high, the actors walk through the audience to get to the stage and, on occasion, the characters directly address the crowd.

The Shakespearian tragedy “Macbeth” depicts the story of the eponymous Macbeth, a Scottish general who descends into madness after killing his king in order to ascend to the throne. After returning from a victorious battle, Macbeth and his fellow general, Banquo, come upon three witches. The three witches prophesize that Macbeth will become king of Scotland, while Banquo is told his descendants will be a line of kings. While both men are initially skeptical, Macbeth begins to waver in his loyalty to King Duncan as the prophecy begins to appear true. Encouraged by his wife, Macbeth murders Duncan. Still, there is no triumph for Macbeth and his lady, only overwhelming guilt and doubt.

AFTLS performances become more than a show; they are a conversation with the audience. A refreshing change from Shakespeare performances that focus on ornamentation, these productions feature nothing except for Shakespeare’s words and the ability of the actors. The usual theatrical excellence of the company, paired with the classical greatness of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” is a sure sign of a good show this week.

“Macbeth” will run in Washington Hall tonight through Friday night. To purchase tickets for all shows, contact the DPAC ticket office at 574-631-800. Tickets are $12 for students.