Macbeth Director's Notes

I am sure many of us have seen a production of Macbeth before, but I am positive none of us have ever seen Sir William Davenant’s adaptation of Macbeth. This production is a unique and historic opportunity for all the elements of the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Folger Institute, the Folger Theatre, and the Folger Consort to conjoin on a scale never before done. The unification of scholarship and live performance on this project has not been attempted to this degree.

This production has been over two years in the planning and I am honored to be at the helm. The creative team and the scholars have been working very hard to understand the principles of its orientation in an effort to make it accessible and relevant for our audience today.

The concept for this production is a play within a play—a one-time performance staged as a fundraising event for Bedlam, the mental asylum in London, two weeks after the Great Fire in 1666. The inmates of the asylum have been rehearsing in roles that are meaningful to their personalities, conditions, and relationships.

The history of Bedlam as a hospital is rich. The name has entered our language as a description of inhumanity and chaos. This allows the acting approach of the play within the play to be demonstrative and closer to a Restoration style.

Then things go horribly wrong. The murder of Duncan (played by the Warden) prompts a significant shift in this production. The theatrical prop knives are switched and Macbeth murders the Warden before a live audience and his fellow inmates. Thus, the evening takes on a very different tone and we are transported into a dark, ruthless world of violence and mayhem. Bedlam ensues! From this point on, the acting is rooted in realism and more kin to 21st-century performances of this play.

Our Bedlam of 1666 is set in the original building, built on a troubled sewer, where visitors are restricted and conditions are appalling. It has the elements of a makeshift, openhanded theater set up in the public space, and the settings and props are from things that can be found inside the hospital. Encouraged by the Warden, the play begins with an orchestra that has been hired for the evening’s special performance, and starts in a way that we imagine they might have acted in the 17th century.

The Folger is the only place in the country where academic scholarship, performance expertise, and creative design can come together and produce a unique and original artistic result. It has been my pleasure to collaborate with all the constituents on this remarkable endeavor.

Robert Richmond

Above right: The Witches and the corpse of Duncan. Clockwise from left: Rachael Montgomery, Ethan Watermeier, Emily Noël, and Louis Butelli. Photo by Brittany Diliberto, Bee Two Sweet.