The Scottish Play

First posted MyT 14th November 2007

A few days ago, I became the proud owner of one of Coldwaterjohn’s highly -prized virtual quaichs, by the simple expedient of having gone to school in the county town which lies a few miles to the south of the cultural and artistic hotbed that is Pitlochry and its Festival Theatre and, as a result, being able to identify that town in his photo.

That photo set me thinking of my school days and matters thespian and brought back memories of the superb Shakespearian production that I was fortunate enough to witness in my Fifth Year. Every year, the local Repertory Theatre put on a performance of one of the set texts for the sole and simple reason that it would guarantee them a couple of sell out matinees when all the local pupils got dragged along to see it. The play the year before (‘Hamlet’) had begun really well. In Act I Scene 4, the director had had the brilliant idea of getting Hamlet to leap down from the battlements to confront his father’s ghost. He duly leapt but landed badly. There was a crack which could be heard throughout the auditorium and Hamlet fell to the stage screaming in agony. They brought down the curtain and when it was raised again ten minutes later we had a new Hamlet – the director himself, who was at least 30 years older than the previous incumbent.

He was also a good foot shorter and a lot thinner and, whilst it was quite interesting watching him struggling to cope with a costume that was many sizes too large, it was the general consensus that the rest of the show had not really lived up to its promising start. The next year they did the Scottish Play. We did not hold out any hope that it could match ‘Hamlet’. For a start, Macbeth was to be played by Michael O’Halloran and we knew only two things about him – he was an announcer with Scottish Television and he was a complete slaphead. This was in the days when most men coping with hair loss went for the Bobby Charlton style. As far as we knew, O’Halloran’s only connection with acting was that he was Scotland’s own Yul Brynner.

We expected very little but how wrong we were, thanks to a catalogue of disasters, an under-rehearsed cast who were going through the motions for an audience that they knew did not want to be there, and to that same, splendid director who tended to be a bit literal in his interpretation of the text. The play bumped along with not much going wrong until we got to the dagger scene. There really was a dagger before him! At least, it was before him until the (relatively) invisible cord from which it was suspended broke and the dagger thudded to the stage.

Fast forward to the second entrance of Banquo’s Ghost in the banquet scene. Macbeth rose dramatically from his throne and hurled his goblet back over his shoulder. It vanished offstage, hit something and re-appeared travelling at speed in the opposite direction to bounce off the skull of an unfortunate courtier.

In due course, we had the murder of McDuff’s family. In his wisdom, the director had chosen the most buxom of the female cast to play the son. In the middle of the scene, all of the bindings that were holding her breasts flat snapped simultaneously and she literally busted out of the top half of her costume to deafening cheers.

We had scarcely settled down when along came the sleep walking scene. This time the director’s business was to have Lady MacBeth walking down a flight of steps while she outed her damned spot. Half way down she caught the train of her dress on a nail and could not free herself. The whole flight of steps started to rock and, by the time the doctor had summoned up the presence of mind to cross the stage and pull her hem free she had delivered her exit line of ‘To Bed’ about fifteen times and with ever increasing hysteria.

And so to the climactic sword fight. Macbeth took a mighty swipe at McDuff’s blade and his own sword bent at right angles. He raised his shield in front of his face, put the sword behind him and tensed it against the stage, trying to straighten it. At this point, the whole thing got to him and he corpsed. He laughed so much that his wig fell off. Eventually he recovered, and exited to meet his death. The curtain fell and the entire cast, particularly McDuff’s son, received a five minute standing ovation. The great O’Halloran then made a short speech. The gist of it was that, if we were going to answer the Macbeth question in the forthcoming Higher exam, we should remember to say that it was one of Shakespeare’s tragedies, despite the compelling evidence to the contrary that they had given us that memorable afternoon.

Comments from MyT

SQ
I loved this: I can imagine just how it went! The thing is, though, that it was memorable – and for an audience of schoolchildren, that is probably far more important than authenticity!

Stefania
This really had me laughing out loud! Memories of similar school performances of the bard flooded back. Thank you so much!

Reminds me of an amateur performance I was in of Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades, in which the hero leaps onto the banks of the river Neva, which promptly trundled off into the wings…’

marya
What a great post … yes , reminds me of other ‘tragedies’ witnessed and acted in at school . very , very funny . Thank you for the laughter … :

Me

‘squarepeg, Stefania Kaznowska and MARYA. I am really grateful for your kind comments on my first blog.

It has taken a couple of months for me to summon up the courage to blog on MyT and I am also grateful to Coldwaterjohn for providing the spark that finally lit the fuse.

I posted the blog this morning and went off to work. It has been a long day as I wondered if anybody had commented on it. It was a real tonic when I came back home, logged on and found that you had.’

MyT 14.07

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