The Macbeth project

The Scottish play’ in Florence

Sarah Nugent
April 9, 2009

At a moment when morality, money and mortality weigh heavily on the minds of people throughout the world, Shakespeare's Macbeth seems an eerily close reflection of the times. So it is no surprise that three well-respected local institutions have coincidentally decided to present the play to Florence this spring. The British Institute, Teatro della Pergola, and Florence English Speaking Theatrical Artists (FESTA) each give a unique presentation of Shakespeare's play.

 

 

Considered Shakespeare's greatest tragedy, Macbeth follows themes of corrupt power, ambition and lack of morality. (For those unfamiliar with the play: when war hero Macbeth returns to his homeland of Scotland, he is soon confronted by the Three Fates and foretold that he will become King of Scotland. He plots with his power-hungry wife to kill the king, Duncan, and take the crown for themselves. After a series of bloody encounters and ghostly hauntings, Lady Macbeth takes her life and Macbeth meets his demise when he is murdered by his rival, Macduff.)

 

‘Macbeth is a play full of moral and ethical ambiguities. It exists in a world where success, fame, glory are sought at all costs. While there may be, at times a brief refrain of self doubt, ambition drives the characters to monstrous acts of cruelty; there is very little sense of shame or guilt, even when these acts destroy those who were once beloved,' explains FESTA director Shaun Loftus. Says producer/actress Elia Nichols, ‘I find that in world affairs today our political and financial leaders often behave in this way: success and victory must be won at all costs. Moral values are easily dispensed with, justifying atrocious acts as necessary for the greater good. Greed, ambition, and avarice have nearly destroyed the world's economic markets, yet remorse is only expressed (if at all) once someone has been caught and thrown into jail.'

 

The British Institute (BI) is continuing its tradition of introducing English-speaking culture to the  Italian audience by hosting a week-long festival dedicated to Shakespeare's Macbeth. It starts on April 21, with a showing of Roman Polanski's Macbeth, followed by a public reading of the play and exhibition at the British Institute. On April 22, Clare Asquith, author of Shadow Play, an analysis of Shakespeare's political and religious beliefs, will lead a discussion. Also on April 22, the BI hosts a screening of Kurosawa's Throne of Blood, inspired by Macbeth, at the British Institute. Closing the festival on April 23, the anniversary of Shakespeare's death (and, possibly, his birthday), Bari Hochwald, producing artistic director of Florence International Theatre Company and Darrin Byrd, a Broadway performer, will perform a set of monologues that explore the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. All events except the Kurosawa screening will be held at the British Institute on via Lungarno Guicciardini, 9. For details and times, see www.britishinstitute.it.

 

The Teatro della Pergola will stage Macbeth in Italian from May 5 through 10. Built in 1656, just 40 years after Shakespeare's death, this historical theatre is now a national monument. This production not only brings the play to an Italian audience, but offers English-speakers a chance to brush up on their Italian. Go to www.teatrodellapergola.com for performance schedule and ticket information.

 

FESTA is a multicultural troupe, with artists from Italy, the United States, Australia, and Great Britain. Although best known in Florence for its family-friendly bilingual performances such as Peter and the Wolf and Alice in Wonderland, FESTA is taking on the dark themes of Macbeth, staging the play in the Bargello, a former prison and site of Florentine executions. From July 8 to 12 FESTA will integrate the building's porticoes, stone stairwells, and medieval windows for the play's treacherous battles, murders, and desperate suicides. ‘I feel very strongly that we must focus on the archetypical, metaphysical, and universal themes of this piece-the play must be as large as the space it is being performed in to bring the audience into the play,' said Nichols. Information about the performances is available at www.festatheatre.com.

 

When asked what they wanted the audience to take from their performance, Loftus concluded, ‘I want to provide things to think about, new ways to think about things-and especially new ways to think of Shakespeare-not as a stodgy and boring dead playwright, but as someone who wrote and thought about the very issues we still grapple with in these modern times.' Nichols added, ‘Our goal is to find a way to integrate English language and bilingual theatre into the Florence community, working with our Italian and international speaking colleagues, and finding new ways to communicate through art, music, and movement-and finding common cultural ground.'

 

 

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