W4W : Why William Shatner should never play Macbeth

Comedy Hamlet and Yorrick scene

Image : Pixabay

 

As an Englishwoman, subject of this sceptre isle, this precious stone set in the silver sea, I’m ashamed to say, I’ve spent very little time watching or studying Shakespeare since leaving school.

As a teen, I was besotted by the stage – the lights, the attention, the thrill of stumbling over props and stagehands in semi darkness.

I acted in youth theatre, though this foray into the seedy world of Thespia was in part due to the attractions of the young male lead in my troupe, a loose hipped, loose lipped, self-adoring monster intriguingly named Conan. A barbarian like his namesake, this glorious creature was monstrous in the way only attractive teenage boys can be. I learned my lines (barely), threw myself around rehearsals (embarrassingly) and he hardly flickered an unfeasibly  long eyelash my way.

As compensation for my failure as an actress, I trotted along to every school theatre trip going. Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Edward II, Midsummer Night’s Dream, even Swan Lake, The Nutcracker and Coppelia got a look in, though I later decided I’m not a fan of ballet, preferring blood and guts high opera and its tendency towards morbidly extended death scenes over ballet’s pallid and picturesque drowning Swan Princesses.

In a moment of madness, I used my hard earned deli counter wages to buy a pre-loved copy of the complete works of Shakespeare. It had yellowed pages spotted with damp and a spine that crumbled more with every read. Unfortunately,  I found it disappointingly impenetrable and soon put it aside in favour of what I viewed at the time as easier prey such as Equus. I must have been a very weird teenager.  

As an adult, my

SHAKESPEARIAN

experiences have not improved.

Years ago, I went to see a production of Macbeth (always one of my favourites, due to its high body count and obsessions with personal hygiene and the supernatural) starring an actor from Blake’s 7. Those living in the UK and of a certain age will no doubt remember Blake’s 7 for its shaky sets (imagine the original Star Trek with half the budget), camp costumes, overacting and its terrifically downbeat ending where after following the crew across the universe for four years, all our heroes die in a bloodless laser gun shootout.

The actor from Blake 7 gave a perturbing performance, gurning, sucking his cheeks and staring into the middle distance (a la James Tiberius Kirk) which I think was supposed to convey inner turmoil, but just looked as if he was having trouble with his wisdom teeth.

Hoping for a more positive experience and plumping for ‘proper’ stage actors this time over ex sci-fi telly bods, we saw Twelfth Night a while after that, but though a better production, the story line itself is horrible.

Have you seen it? It’s a ‘comedy’, which is tricky to pull off at the best of times. I for instance, would be a Spaced or My Name is Earl kind of person, where the majority of the world seems to be more Terry and June or Two and a Half Men. I suspect Twelfth Night is the Early Modern equivalent of the latter, having as its central figure of fun Malvolio, a lowly steward who is humiliated and imprisoned by higher status tormentors just for being a bit of a pranny.  You had to be there, I guess.

Anyway, I’m hoping an upcoming Shakespeare play will rejuvenate my love of all things Bard.

For I have tickets to see the great British actor, Timothy West as King Lear in a few weeks’ time. Lear’s much more up my street than Twelfth Night. There may not be any witches, but there is madness, betrayal and enough pointless death in the last act to make Hamlet puce with envy.

So, wish me luck and be warned – I may soon be in the market for a second-hand complete works. Though not, be assured, teenage boy actors.

Probably.


Thanks to dear Kat, founder of W4W.

13 thoughts on “W4W : Why William Shatner should never play Macbeth

  1. I am very jealous of you! What a great actor and what a fantastic play you are about to see! Have you read Jane Simley Thouand Acres at all? A fantastic story with obvious Lear undertones. Loved that book.

    Macbeth is one of my favs too. Did you ever see the BBC production with James McAvoy? Very good! I have the bluray of David Tennent playing hamlet too which is sublime. I actually love Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and juliette too, have that bluray too! Yes I am a fan of The Bard!

    But I think I’d love to see Shatner in a Shakespeare play – it’d be absolutely hilarious! I’d pay good money to see that!

    I loved the description of your school girl crush Lynn! The things we did for ‘love’ huh?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow! You clearly know way more about Shakespeares plays than I do. Timothy West will be amazing, I’m sure. Couldn’t believe my luck when I serched for Shakespeare in Bristol and that was playing. I’ll write a post on it, I’m sure. I haven’t seen James McAvoy in Macbeth (and I love him too) and also want to see the recent Michael Fassbender version as it’s supposed to be very gritty and grubby. And Shatner as Macbeth would be entertaining. I wonder if he’s every played the role. Wouldn’t mind betting he’s had a stab at it 🙂
      Yes, Conan, what a heartless little swine he was. Well, we live and learn, don’t we? Thanks you, sweetheart x

      Liked by 1 person

  2. If you thought Equus was easier than, well, anything, then you were an odd teenager indeed! Although the part about mooning after the handsome lead actor, that sounds very familiar.

    I was in Thespians in high school too, and loved it. It took me quite a while to get into Shakespeare, though. Not until my late 30s, really. I went through a phase for a couple years where I watched every filmed Shakespeare play I could get hold of, reading the Spark Notes summaries and interpretations first, then reading along with the subtitles to be sure I was getting everything, sometimes even reading along with the original text, to make sure I caught the lines and to see what they were skipping. Wow, once you’ve seen the same play a few times and know what’s happening, it’s a hugely different (and better) experience. Yes, even Twelfth Night! Around that same time I started seeking out live performances. I’m not really that drawn to the “famous actor on a big stage” bit, but I usually catch four amazingly good community theater Shakespeare plays every summer. Two from a “Shakespeare by the Sea” troupe that performs in various parks in CA all summer, and two from a university-related troupe that sets up this amazing theater-in-the-round on campus in the summer. A highlight of my year, every year. Sometimes I get an extra Shakespeare play in one of the “real” theaters, and that’s an extra treat.

    I hope you enjoy King Lear!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You sound like quite the expert, Joy. Much more knowledgeable than I am. You’re right in that really knowing the meaning in the text can help. I think that was the problem with reading the ‘works’ alone as a teen – it made little sense to me because I had no ‘translation’ to hand. And they are meant to be acted, after all. You sound as if you have a thriving Shakespearean community there – fabulous.
      I should go to more plays as Bristol has an offshoot of the Old Vic, one of the oldest continously in use theatres in the world and a very well respected smaller theatre that’s more experimental in its productions. No excuse not to be Barded up to the eyeballs.
      I’m sure Lear will be brilliant. Can’t wait 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oo, I would love to be “Barded up to the eyeballs”! I would definitely recommend Sparknotes — http://www.sparknotes.com/ It’s MUCH easier than trying to attack the text from scratch on your own. Once you read what the scenes are supposed to be about, if you do decide to go back and read the original text (so that you understand some of those trickier lines) it’s a HUGE help to know the gist of the scene when you’re trying to “translate” from Shakespeare’s language.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes, I’ve found spark notes really useful while blogging. They write clear, accessible summaries for when I need to find out a character name or plot point. I’ll have a read before I go to Lear 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Are you going into London or Stratford for the show, Lynn? I like the image of the actor sucking his cheeks in. I’m trying to pull off a Stanislavsky/method acting reference my wife mentioned to me, about something Sir Lawrence Olivier said to Dustin Hoffman during ‘Marathon Man,’ when Dustin wasn’t bathing for several days, and tormenting himself whilst getting into character, and Olivier said something like, ‘my dear boy, have you ever tried acting?”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We’re lucky enough to have the Bristol Old Vic in the city centre, housed in a lovely Georgian theatre built in 1766. It’s recently been refurbished and when they took out the floors they found Georgian hazlenut shells underneath, which were apparently the popcorn of their day!
      That story about Marathon Man is great. I wonder if it’s true. They certainly had very different approaches to the craft! I suspect the actor I saw was more very down market Olivier than Stanislavsky 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post Lynn. Even as a (very obvious) Shakespeare fan, the word Shakespearean is enough to send a shiver down the spine. I think it’s the connotations of men in tights declaiming their lines badly…
    King Lear has a very high body count, so I’m sure you’ll be satisfied on that count!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Cymbeline. You know, I’ve never seen Lear, but I did read the Spark Notes summary and you’re right – the stage will be awash with corpses by the end! Something I’ve always remembered about Hamlet. She dies, he dies, he dies, she dies …

      Like

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