It’s nearly here! We’ve been rehearsing since the beginning of November for our production of Macbeth, and we can’t wait for you to see it, writes director Kate Raw.

We’re starting off our two venue tour this Friday and Saturday at The Shed, and then going on to The Mission Theatre in Bath the following week.

The cast (from Tetbury, Minchinhampton, Stroud, Nailsworth, Dursley, Chippenham, Bristol and Bath) have been working incredibly hard, and we look forward to welcoming you to Scotland for the evening.

Fascinating witches

The witches in Macbeth have always facinated me. In Shakespeare’s text (not including the likely Middletonian additions), they only appear in three scenes, yet they are often the main characters remembered by the general public.

Ask someone to quote Macbeth, and if they don’t say ‘is this a dagger I see before me’ or ‘tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow…’ then they will likely go for one of the un-named witch lines:

‘When shall we three meet again?’

‘Double, double, toil and trouble.’

‘By the pricking of my thumbs
Something wicked this way comes.’

They are otherworldly, but quite human with their humour and connection to one another, reminding us of the cultural environment that Shakespeare was sending this play into – where witchcraft was not only very much believed, but lead ordinary women to be feared and punished.

To the fore

With this production I wanted to bring these women to fore – making them the storytellers, creating the events around Macbeth as the plot unfolds. A few scenes, usually performed by a host of blink-and-you’ll-miss-them thanes, have been given over to our ensemble of witches, giving them open discussion about the play’s happenings, and re-instating the power in the play to this un-named group of wayward women (some of them with beards!)

I hope that you see the witches as interchangeable with their characters – that their playing in ‘the affairs of men’ (to quote another Shakespeare play) is ultimately to their own advantage – crowning one of their own at the end of the play.

Brutal episode

In the original publication of Macbeth in the first folio, the witches sing the song ‘Black Spirits’ before the apparitions appear. This is a later Middleton addition (and the song is not very good), but I wanted to have music over this scene, and had read about the Witches’ Reel.

The song that was integral to the trial and sentencing of Geillis Duncan, the teenage maidservant who became embroiled in a brutal episode in Scottish history known as the North Berwick Witch Trials at the end of the 16th century.

It was published as part of James VI (later James I)’s Demonologie, under the chapter ‘Newes from Scotland’. The song is written as a reel, likely for dancing, and is written for and about women. It seemed an apt choice. I’ve re-written a number of the lyrics to translate them into contemporary English, but it remains largely the song that lead Geillis, and in turn many others to their deaths.

Macbeth remains a fascinating glimpse into the roles of women, ‘mother, crone, and queen’, and I’ve really enjoyed exploring what that brings to the story with our cast.

See you at the weekend!