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24 September 2014

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Go on, just call it Macbeth!

Macbeth director Dominic Cooke
Director Dominic Cooke explains his Macbeth
RSC director Dominic Cooke tells us how superstition is important in Macbeth and why no-one's allowed to call it 'the Scottish Play'!

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So, where do you start a season of Shakespeare tragedies? Macbeth is a perfect curtain-raiser with its brooding mix of the savage and supernatural and the RSC has Dominic Cooke at the helm for this, his first directorship in the main house.

One thing that certainly hasn’t worried Dominic so far is the superstition surrounding the play, he for one is not concerned about any curses that may fall on the cast if they utter the dreaded word “Macbeth”.

He said that from the first rehearsal, he banned all actors from calling it “the Scottish Play”. But why?

quote start
It is a frightening play to do because it depicts such corruption and brutality
quote end
Dominic Cooke
“There are theories about the origins of ‘the curse’ of Macbeth – one of them is that because so many of the scenes take place in the dark, there were lots of accidents backstage.

“I’ve also read that the witches’ incantations are from real rituals and this gives the play its apparent curse. I don’t really buy this.”

 Sian Thomas and Greg Hicks in Macbeth
Sian Thomas and Greg Hicks in Macbeth
“It is a frightening play to do because it depicts such corruption and brutality….these fears are sometimes expressed in terms of superstitions.”

There are other worries when taking on a play in the main house without superstition, Dominic acknowledges the RST is a “particularly challenging space”.

“In the RST, a director needs to think more in terms of pictures than he or she would in the Swan, where the audience is much closer and can read every nuance on the actor’s face,” he said.

“If the director thinks in terms of images as well as words, the play can resonate for the whole audience, not just the first ten rows.”

As well as marking his directorial debut, the play is also the first featuring the RSC’s new Core Ensemble- a revolutionary move for the company.

quote start
Macbeth is particularly accessible because it is such a rich story
quote end
Dominic Cooke
It has seen the actors rehearse, train and perform together for twice the normal time and has included a special workshop week, with a range of theatre practitioners working with the actors.

“I think it’s not only good that the actors are being exposed to such a range of different voices but also that they’re going through the same programme of workshops together,” said Dominic.

 The RST in Stratford
Macbeth marks Dominic's debut in the RST
“The important thing is that the actors will be encouraged to be critical and not just passively receive information from the workshops.

"Hopefully, this will allow us to make informed choices about how to speak Shakespeare’s verse.”

The thought of tackling Shakespeare’s verse is enough to send many running for the hills, particularly the younger generation.

However, the Bard and particularly Macbeth is still relevant and understandable, according to Dominic.

“Macbeth is particularly accessible because it is such a rich story,” he said. “It contains elements of thriller and adventure and I think the supernatural is always fascinating for audiences.

“I think people are more open to the supernatural than they let on.”

Macbeth runs at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre until 2 October.

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