Shakespeare, bloody Shakespeare

A couple of months ago, I had a preview of elements of the St Mary’s Calne Venus Flytrap production of ‘Macbeth Unsexed’, which opened today at the Edinburgh Fringe and is showing at C Eca, Venue 50, at 3pm for the next week. The immensely talented actors, most aged 17, took their A Level Theatre Studies this summer, a year early, and as part of their portfolio they devised a clever and chillingly captivating ensemble piece, focused on death and murder, which was terrifying to the core. For Edinburgh, they have woven these elements, into a portrayal of Lady Macbeth, ‘unsexing’ her as she herself asked to be, and binding her to the madnesses of ‘unsexed’ women throughout Western literature.

And yet, although I had had a preview, and although I was steeling myself for the onslaught, as characters rose out of anonymity, formed in front of my eyes, challenged me and attacked me, bruising my sensibilities in a way that only powerful drama can, I was not sufficiently prepared, for how can one be when one is faced with such shocking insights into the mind of a twisted humankind – womankind – that it is all too easy to deny exists? As the cast themselves drove home – “Do not look away … The future holocausts and genocides and murders for which man is to blame … Are we all damned?”

Are we all damned? Is it all – everything we do – pointless, meaningless? Well, of course not. My father, who came with me to the performance, remarked wryly afterwards that – on the evidence of the tales of destruction, suicide and murder we had just witnessed – all my efforts to impart social and moral education at school had obviously not had any effect whatsoever; when I told the girls, they laughed out loud. In that laughter was all the evidence one needed of the power of a liberal education to challenge us to think differently, to stretch to the furthest extreme our understandings even of the darkest parts of the human psyche, and yet still to enable us to return to our strong core of knowing what is right and what is wrong, born of centuries of our moral traditions.

“A deed of dreadful note”, to quote Macbeth himself, is something that he recognised and that we recognise. But remember – it is education that teaches us so, and without it, we might just risk being damned.

Thank you, girls, for reminding us of this. And keep wowing Edinburgh.


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