"GET INTO A SINGLE FILE LINE! HURRY UP! MOVE!" This isn't the way an audience expects to be greeted in the theatre, but it is the opening of the Out of Joint production of Macbeth that recently toured the Guthrie Lab Theatre in Minneapolis. The production originated in West Yorkshire in 2004, followed by its world tour in 2005 to London, [End Page 115] the Czech Republic, Minneapolis, Massachusetts, Edinburgh, Bury St. Edmunds, Mexico, the Netherlands, and Nigeria.
Two aspects distinguish this production as an important milestone in the performance history of Macbeth: the setting and the semi-promenade format. Director Max Stafford-Clark sets the play in modern Africa with surprising success. Stafford-Clark's choice of locale was supported by two links between the Scottish play and Africa, explained in the program notes. First, Ugandan dictator Idi Amin spent time in Scotland for military training, and later supported the Scottish cause of independence. Second, there is the story of Emma McCune, a British aid worker in southern Sudan who married the warlord Riek Machar and earned the nickname "Lady Macbeth" for her ruthless behavior.
Stafford-Clark immediately jolted the audience into his new setting with the opening lines quoted above, delivered by AK-47-wielding soldiers, as audience members were herded into the theatre. Rather than leisurely finding their seats and reading their programs, the audience instantly became part of this production as they entered and huddled near a campfire. Spectators formed an outer ring around the fire as a tribal dance took place among the cast. Frenzied dancing to pulsating drums transported us far from the mists of Scotland to the African setting. Child warriors, soldiers in fright wigs, and an abundance of large guns reinforced the atmosphere of fear and horror.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the change in locale occurred with the character of Lady Macbeth, played by the only white member of the cast (Raquel Cassidy). Stafford-Clark did not hesitate to play up the racial differences between the Macbeths. Lady Macbeth's desperation to fit in with her husband's warrior society, and her ultimate failure to do so, were apparent from the start of the play. In the opening tribal dance, Lady Macbeth tried to dance as frantically as the other African women, but could not keep up. Conversely, when the setting moved from the tribal dance scene to the living room of the Macbeths, replete with eighteenth-century furniture and décor, her poise and sophistication highlighted Macbeth's rough edges as well as his desperate desire to increase his status through association with her.
The "unsex me here" speech and the first scene between the Macbeths in 1.5 were moments most audience members were surely awaiting, given the differences between the Macbeths. How would Raquel Cassidy's fine-boned, delicate, petite Lady Macbeth ever manage to dominate the burly, muscular, imposing Macbeth of Danny Sapani? Her linguistic command, unbelievable fortitude, and impressive emotional control were clearly beyond [End Page 116] those of her husband, and the source of her power in this scene was less sexual than it was her ability to maintain composure and confidence. This private scene between the Macbeths was constantly interrupted by the entrance of servants carrying on their household business (laundry, preparing food, etc.), heightening the tension between the private marital relationship and their public actions. The banquet scene also highlighted this difference, as Lady Macbeth played the hostess with grace and sophistication, equally at home in a stunning brown sequined evening gown as she was smearing the grooms' faces with blood in 2.3.
The semi-promenade style of performance worked well to keep the audience...