Theatre Northwest ended the school year this weekend with a modern twist on the Shakespearean play “Macbeth.”
“Macbeth” is a play about a man who encounters three witches who tell him he is destined for greatness. In fulfilling this prophecy, he becomes mad and cruel. In Northwest’s modern retelling, Macbeth is a soldier who, at his wife’s request, kills his commanding officer and takes over his position, becoming a “mad tyrant” of Scotland.
Sophomore Alexander Whittington played the main role of Macbeth. He thought that the modern setting was something that made this portrayal of the Shakespearean classic unique.
“I think it’s interesting that we set it not in the time that it’s set in the play,” Whittington said. “We kind of put it outside of time, in a way.”
Whittington also said the different time period was helpful for the performers.
“It made it really easy, easier on us,” Whittington said. “We didn’t have to think, ‘How would a character from this time portray that?’ We had to think, ‘How would this character, as a person, portray this?’ We got to get more emotionally into the characters, and I think that opened it up to a wider audience.”
As with most portrayals, there were challenges. Whittington said the language that comes with Shakespeare was a bit tough to tackle.
“Spending nights with a dictionary going, ‘Huh, that’s not what I thought that meant,’ was probably one of the toughest parts,” Whittington said.
Sophomore Kailyn Peterson played one of the witches that tells Macbeth about his future and talked about the Shakespearean language as well.
“Macbeth has a lot of challenges with languages,” Peterson said. “Because it’s written in Old English and traditional Shakespearean, we have to ‘help’ the audience understand us by being really deliberate with how we say our lines. We have to guide the audience to what we’re saying with how we’re saying it.”
The modernization of the play was, to some extent, used to try to help explain what this complex language meant. Whittington said he feels that the new twist on the setting helped make things easier not only for the actors but for the audience as well.
“I love Shakespeare to death, but he’s a very niche playwright,” Whittington said. “A lot of people will avoid Shakespeare if they can because of the language, and because it’s not a portrayal of modern times. So if you can set that in a modern context, it opens it up.”
Members of the audience agreed. Dimitric Edwards, a graduate student, enjoyed the dynamic between the updated setting and the original language.
“I think the biggest positive in modernizing the play is in how the lines were performed,” Edwards said. “While kept in the typical Shakespearean language, the actors performed the lines as if they were using a normal conversational tone. I think this made the language of the play easier to dissect and follow.”
Edwards also suggested, however, that the play could have been improved by modernizing everything, not just the setting.
“I know I praised the way the lines were performed, but I am always a fan of a production translating the Shakespearean dialogue into a more modern vernacular,” Edwards said. “I find it fascinating how production takes the risk of trying to stay true to the themes and gist of a play while making the dialogue match contemporary times.”