The entry hall of the Icelandic National Theatre’s Smíðaverkstæði, is filled with a Shakespearean props; armor, swords and Elizabethian furniture, are scattered all over the room. The theatre-hall where the play is delivered has no props at all. It is actually more like a slaughterhouse with varnished floors and plastic covered seats. The idea behind the prop-filled entry hall versus the stripped down stage is not a coincidence.
“When people walk in they can sit down in the entry hall and have a beer surrounded by all these props that remind them of a typical Macbeth production. But when they go into the stage hall they are supposed to be stripped of everything except the play itself,” explains director Stefán Hallur Stefánsson violating a long held believe that uttering the word “Macbeth” during production will curse the play.
Macbeth: Also Crazy Offstage
“Macbeth, Macbeth, Macbeth,” says Tobias. “I don’t think there is a curse. I think mishaps that take place when the play is set up have more to do with the ego of the actor playing the main role. The role is very demanding and the actor playing it has to become a maniac in some ways and that can create problems,” he says and grins, perhaps because it is director Stefán Hallur who also takes on the role of the mad Scottish king and murderer. Maybe Tobias has a point though. During our conversation, Stefán Hallur has problems staying still. He walks the floors and instead of answering questions in a calm manner, he delivers short dramatic monologues about the production.
“Our goal with this production was to do something more than deliver text. We want to show rather than tell. It is supposed to be driven by action. Tobias and I examined the original English text by Shakespeare carefully and tried to find the core in the story. The dialogue was then made out of three different Icelandic translations and the outcome is supposed to be focused on the story instead of the words,” says Stefán Hallur and points out that a delivery of the original text can sometimes take more than four hours in performance but this version will be finished in about an hour and a half. “We are not dissembling the play because it is 400 years old and somebody had to do it, or because we think we are young and hip and Shakespeare is old and boring. On the contrary our goal was to show respect to the storyline and do our best to deliver that,” he adds.
So the play is not modernized or put into Icelandic context? “No it’s not,” says Tobias. “Still we’ve studied certain things that took place long after the play was written, like the relationships some Eastern-European dictators had with their wifes,” he says and names Ceaucescu and Milosevic as examples but their wives, like Macbeth’s, played a big role in their abuse of power. “The text is not altered to put a light on contemporary events but it is so brilliantly written by Shakespeare that it does it anyway,” says Stefán Hallur and points out that the play might put recent developments in Reykjavík city politics in a new perspective.
What about non-Icelandic speaking theatre-goers? Is there something in the production for them? “I think this play is more accessible to non-Icelandic speakers than many other shows in Iceland. We use stage-craft in an authentic way and at least I will enjoy the play very well though I don’t speak the language,” says Tobias and chuckles.
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