BWW Interview: Bedlam Comes to DC and the Folger with MACBETH
Cynics may equate Washington, DC with a lunatic asylum but starting this week the world's most infamous mental institution will come to Capitol Hill. Fortunately for us, England's Bedlam Mental Hospital will be ensconced in the divine comforts of the Folger Shakespeare Theatre where the patients are about to stage a production of Macbeth, unlike any we've seen before.
"What is interesting about Macbeth is that the dominant themes of ambition and loyalty, sometimes paid for in blood, resound all the time," says Robert Richmond, Macbeth's Director.
Richmond is no stranger to DC, Shakespeare or the Folger - having directed close to a dozen of the Bard's works here over the last decade. He even directed a 2005 command performance of Much Ado About Nothing at The White House. However, this Macbeth has been adapted and amended by Sir William Davenant and is being done in a Restoration style. So what does that mean?
"I consider Davenant's adaptation to a 17th-century audience like going to see their version of Cirque du Soleil," says Richmond. "The Folger has made a very brave and unique decision to put this production on, because it is different than what we've come to expect from Shakespeare's Macbeth. Doing so has required pulling all the talents of the various Folger constituencies - the actors, creative team, pre-eminent scholars, and Folger Consort - so that we could understand the Restoration period, and how to make it palatable to modern audiences."
The Restoration Period took place in the mid-1600s and celebrated the return of the British monarchy. With restrictions on theatre lifted after the fall of Oliver Cromwell, Davenant, founder of Dukes Company, a theater company established in 1660, decided to adapt Shakespeare's work to fit the new tastes of audiences and England's theatrical rebirth.
"Davenant's Macbeth is considered very different from Shakespeare's Macbeth because of a few key differences. The Restoration had a strong female presence, and so female roles were being performed by women for the first time. Because of that, several roles have grown larger, namely Lady Macbeth and Lady McDuff. The witches have songs, and musical interludes now fill the piece," says Richmond.
Still though, the challenge remains, Davenant adapted Macbeth in the 17th century, how does one make it relevant to today's society?
"What is interesting about Restoration theatre being popular during this time in our history - Britain had just been through a civil war and put back a king on the throne. We perhaps, subconsciously or consciously, are in a similar period of discontent with our leaders and are questioning American values. Loyalty and tyranny are the underlying anxieties as you walk around DC, and they are the underlying themes in Macbeth," says Richmond.
To bring Davenant's Macbeth, and indeed the Restoration, to the Folger, this Macbeth is being performed as almost a play within a play. This production is set in 1666, two weeks after the Great Fire of London, which largely destroyed city.
"These are the inmates of London's Bedlam [asylum] putting on this performance of Macbeth to raise money for the new Bedlam building. In this, there is a duality between the inmates and the roles they are playing. It allows us to be both open handed and theatrical in presenting the piece," says Richmond.
With the Folger Theatre just a block from the Supreme Court and three blocks from the Capitol, it may only seem fitting that Bedlam has come to Washington during an election year. Still, for Richmond there is something about the Folger's location that doesn't just seem poetic but absolutely perfect.
"With Shakespeare, you get a sense of our humanities - who we are, who we should be and who we shouldn't be...those themes all echo along the Capital. They help us understand the comedies and tragedies, both on stage and in life," says Richmond.
Macbeth runs thru September 23rd at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre - 201 E Capitol St SE, Washington, DC 20003. For tickets please call (202) 533-7077 or click here.