Doomed woman in Scottish Castle
Emma Hutchins as a young Lady MacBeth
Out, Damned Spot is a one-actor show that presents us with, effectively, MacBeth, the Prequel. It is a one-hour production written and performed by Emma Hutchins. The show opens with Isobel on her wedding day. She enters in her wedding dress and promptly falls to the floor, the victim of her impetuous nature and stormy temperament.
Emma Hutchins’ Lady MacBeth is 23 at her wedding, an unformed project for Donald (MacBeth), who has married beneath him. She is a country girl untutored in the ways of the nobility, quietly relishing her new found status.
Through various short scenes we are given glimpses of her life. Despite a wish for children, she seems unable to bear them. Her one daughter who is much beloved by her, dies in childbirth (Sorry, not in childbirth, but early childhood). And there are other problems too.
MacBeth is absent for long periods, fighting on behalf of the King. The newly ennobled Lady MacBeth finds her existence a lonely and friendless one. Her chief pleasure, the ‘progress’ of the court around the country is finally denied to her after she is compromised by the King. Her mother-in-law, with whom she is forced to spent much of her tme in the cheerless castle, is cold and bitterly regrets that Isobel has become Lady MacBeth.
In the end, it is only with her mother-in-law’s death that she can find any joy in the world, and so begins the tale that Shakespeare told, of her and her husband’s ambition, and their joint willingness to commit multiple murders in order to realise it.
It is an interesting idea, but whether this glimpse into an imagined past actually holds water is another matter entirely. There is also that difficult matter of tone. It would be too much to ask to have Emma Hutchins create her vision in truly effective Shakespearean language, but somehow, because of the nature of her heroine, that is exactly what we expect. And of course, it can’t be done. The atmosphere of medieval Scotland is sketched at, but never totally convinces. There seems just to be a lack of those small but crucial details that tell us where we are and what the times are like. Shakespeare never used first names, and just that one thing (Macbeth becoming Donald, and his wife, Isobel) seems to trivialise what is to come. We are no longer watching a tragedy, but a domestic drama.
Emma Hutchins works hard to breathe life into her character, but it is difficult to feel sympathy for her, and difficult too, to imagine how she might have emerged as Shakespeare’s lady with blood on her hands.
reviewed 11 August 2011, Etcetera Theatre
(c) Michael Spring