Shakespeare on the Seine

I’ve seen a lot of Macbeth witches in my short life, but I’ve never seen any that are quite so… orgasmic? There’s definitely an unnervingly sexual tone to these witches in ripped wedding dresses. Their take is far more alarming than any of the three-girls-with-green-hair-and-pointed-hats-attempts I saw at school. The infamous ‘bubble bubble’ scene follows directly on from the abandoned feast at Hamlet’s court. Vikki Perry, Chloé Hollings and Vibe Nielsen turn the royal table into their cauldron. They break open bread to reveal blood inside, squeeze and lick oranges, and reveal reflections of Banquo’s line of kings – in Macbeth’s own silverware.

Witches that are updated to their true, creepy status, are characteristic of this production, which commemorates both the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, and the centennial of the First World War, stressing the continuing relevance of both. It takes place in a park in central Paris, just across the river from the Notre Dame, where we can hear a protest supporting Christians killed in Iraq. The costumes are clearly WWI era, and in combination with the dusty gravel of the outdoor stage, the tolling bells of the church, and the sound of the protesters, this story of warring factions takes on a modern relevance.

In line with this complex view of warfare, there’s no sense of a ‘good guy’ at all. Macbeth is extraordinarily interpreted by Florian Hutter: every inch the man of action, twisted into a cruel tyrant. He forces soldiers to murder Banquo with daggers to their necks, and strangles an unarmed boy of about nine in the final battle. His relationship with Lady Macbeth at least seems to be passionate, and there’s an interesting choice in making her pregnant – lending new potency (or impotency) to the struggle over succession.

Malcolm, king at the end of the play, is often the ‘good guy’, but Tom Cuthbertson believably portrays him as a simpering, repressed, cowardly wet fish, who has to be physically dragged to the battle and vomits at the sight of blood. (An effect that was excellently carried out.) Duncan, king at the start of the play, is far from a king we’d mourn: in top hat and tails, he waves away the captain bleeding to death in the opening scene. Macduff perhaps? Apart from having abandoned his wife and child and gruesomely cutting out Macbeth’s heart, he might seem the best of a bad lot. However the first lines of the play ‘When will we three meet again, in thunder, lightning or in rain’ are echoed at the very end, as Macduff looks back to the witches. It seems a clear hint to a sequel to this bloodshed, and war’s ongoing cycle.

At an all-girls school, we did suffer through innumerable mediocre ‘bubble bubble’ scenes – it’s one of only a few Shakespeare scenes with nearly all female parts – but we were also asked every year, ‘Why do we still do Shakespeare?’ A story of warring factions, the effects of power, cruelty and tyranny? Flick over to the world news – it’s as relevant now as it was in 1914, and in 1564.

PHOTO/Rozena Crossman