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From London to Notre Dame: ‘Macbeth’

| Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Macbeth_WEBEMILY DANAHER | The Observer

“All hail Macbeth, thou shalt be king hereafter! Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none: So all hail, Macbeth and Banquo!”

If you have ever seen Shakespeare performed on a live stage, you know the language comes to life in a truly unique way as opposed to reading the text on dead, dried ink on the pages of a book (or in this case, a newspaper). Quotes such as the one above can stir strong feelings in text, but nothing can replace the chills that run down your spine when the witches declare their most insidious prophecy right before your eyes. Whatever your experience with Shakespeare may be, theatergoers can look forward to an imaginative and poignant approach to the showing of the world’s most well-known playwright’s “Macbeth” at Washington Hall tonight, Thursday and Friday.

Notre Dame serves as the American base and one of the first destinations for the program Actors from the London Stage (AFTLS), which sends a cast of five professional actors from well-known and well-respected theatres all over the United Kingdom, including Shakespeare’s Globe, the National Theatre of Great Britain and the Royal Shakespeare Company, to perform and teach workshops at colleges across this side of the pond.

This year is also the 40th anniversary of continuous touring for the program. This week, actors Michael Palmer, Charles Armstrong, Annie Aldington, Joanna Bending and Ben Warwick will teach Shakespeare to classes at Notre Dame during the day and act out his tales at night.

This touring season delivers “Macbeth,” quite possibly Shakespeare’s darkest tragedy, a tale brimming with mystery, magic and madness. In “Macbeth,” Shakespeare’s famous witches plant an idea in the mind of a Scottish general and his psychopathic, power-hungry wife. Through blood and betrayal, the corrupted couple destroy the foundations that hold a nation together and threaten anyone who stands in their way.

“Macbeth” already stands prominently in Shakespeare’s works as the source of his perhaps most unfortunate and most complex central character, Lord Macbeth himself. Michael Palmer, who plays Macbeth, as well as an English doctor and a murderer, is thrilled about the opportunities the character presents him.

“It’s an extremely complex part, but there’s two main aspects to it,” Palmer said. “The main two are grappling with his changes of thought and the changes of what he does. Some of it is absolutely perplexing, and deep, for lack of a better term. And the other is you have to go deep to understand why he is doing a particular thing. You have directors who can help you, but hopefully it comes down to you. And then you have to get the measure of it. Even now, I’m just starting to get the measure of it. You could almost spend a lifetime playing this part and never get to the heart of it.

With a role as complex and tragic as Macbeth, Palmer also said that part of the struggle lies in dealing with going crazy yourself.

“A method actor actually advised me to be careful because this part might send you a bit crackers (that’s English for nuts),” Palmer explained. “He said Macbeth is going to take you into some very dark places. And so I’m kind of still waiting to go crazy. I haven’t yet, but I could see how you could. You have to go through some odd places, otherwise it wouldn’t be very satisfying.”

Yet there is something else about AFTLS which suggests this particular performance will stand out on stage. Perhaps it is the opportunity to see such a dark tale on Friday the 13th, or perhaps it is the unique circumstances surrounding these shows in particular. Not only are the five actors doing all the roles by themselves, the play is also self-directed. Palmer explained that the cast is very supportive of each other and has been working together through over a month of rehearsals to get the nuances of such a unique show down.

As dark and tragic as “Macbeth” could potentially be, Palmer said it wouldn’t be all bad.

“We have worked extremely hard trying to make this clear and as entertaining as we possibly can,” Palmer said. “I know it’s a dark piece. People can down in it’s about blood, it’s about witches. Yes, it is all about those things, but hopefully it is also clear and amazing. The story is wonderful, and it’s entertaining and it’s not very long.”

The three performances will run at 7:30 p.m. tonight, Thursday and Friday. Individual tickets are $22, student tickets are $12 and children under 18 are free with a paid adult. Tickets may be purchased at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center ticket office, by phone at (574) 631-2800 or online at shakespeare.nd.edu.

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About Jimmy Kemper

Scene writer, Economics major, and Seinfeld enthusiast

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  • Aaron Nichols

    Thanks for the great preview, Jimmy. We look forward to “descending” on Washington Hall tonight through Friday (the 13th!)
    — Aaron Nichols, Shakespeare at Notre Dame Audience Development Manager