“Macbeth,” which opens Friday at the Ware Center, features one of Shakespeare’s most famous power couples: Lord and Lady Macbeth.
Macbeth is a military hero. His wife comes from a powerful family. They have ambitions.
“There is a real love story here,” says Tim Riggs, who is playing Macbeth in this People’s Shakespeare Project production. “His heart starts beating faster when he sees her.”
“Lady Macbeth comes from a powerful family, but she realizes that power is taken only through men,” says Jeanette Bicking, who is playing Lady Macbeth. “She realizes she’ll never wield the sword.”
“They are climbing the social ranks through the military, they are gaining status,” Riggs says.
Indeed, Macbeth is a general in the king’s army.
As the play begins, he and another general, Banquo, come upon three witches standing around a cauldron, adding the famous eye of newt and toe of frog to the brew.
Director Laura Howell has set the play in a timeless sort of post-apocalyptic world, with costumes suggesting many different eras, from Elizabethan England to modern times to ancient Scotland.
And those witches bring a supernatural fate to the story.
The witches prophesy that Macbeth will be given the aristocratic title of Thane of Cawdor and King of Scotland. Banquo’s descendants will be kings.
Soon after, Macbeth is named Thane of Cawdor.
Could he become King of Scotland?
We meet Lady Macbeth when she is reading about the prophecy in a letter from her husband. She’s psyched and ready to act to make her husband king, especially when she’s told the king is coming to stay with the Macbeths overnight.
“Now, I have a goal,” Bicking says.
That goal is to murder the king that very night.
But Lady Macbeth is worried her husband is “too full of the milk of human kindness” to act, that he isn’t man enough to do it.
She pushes, manipulates and belittles him.
It doesn’t take too much to turn Macbeth.
“I play him like a fiddle. We are partners in crime,” Bicking says. “From each scene to the next, things happen so quickly. There is so much adrenaline, it’s very euphoric. Then things begin to fall apart.”
Lady Macbeth lays out the plan and Macbeth kills the king.
“The doing of it begins to unravel him, almost immediately,” Riggs says. “Paths begin to emerge and for Macbeth, it’s like a freight train. One murder demands another. He doesn’t know how to stop.”
“There is a shift of power into Macbeth’s hands and she is left with nothing,” Bicking says. “Their marriage is gone.”
Lady Macbeth becomes overwhelmed with guilt and in the famous sleepwalking scene can’t wash the blood from her hands.
“It’s pulling back a curtain to show what this has done to her,” Bicking says.
Unable to stand the guilt, Lady Macbeth kills herself.
“I’m surprised at how little I feel when I find out,” Riggs says. “It’s yet another death and I am thinking this is all nothing, it’s a cosmic joke.”
Macbeth speaks some of Shakespeare’s most famous lines as he contemplates his wife’s death and his eminent destruction:
“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”