As daylight wanes over Florence, the divide between man and fate collide in this summer’s performance of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The study of murder, greed, and deception will be played out in the former execution grounds of the Bargello Museum.
‘Florence English Speaking Theatrical Artists (F.E.S.T.A.) is making history as the first company to perform Shakespeare in English in a Florentine museum,’ remarked Cristina Acidini, head of the Polo Museale Fiorentino, the organization in charge of Florence’s most renowned museums.
‘The emphasis is very much on the metaphysical, on humanity, and the battle between the gods and fate,’ said director Shaun Loftus. ‘One of the hallmarks of tragedy is man against the gods, so the idea was to put emphasis on the witches.’
Living in a society where the end justifies the means, Loftus’ Macbeth is presented as a tragedy of humanity. The witches represent three primordial fates-the spinner, the allotter, and the cutter-altering the characters’ lives. Inspired by Akira Kurasawa’s Throne of Blood, Loftus emphasizes that the witches’ power to determine life, length of life, and the moment of death comes from the characters’ belief in them.
‘I mirror the fights because I’m deciding who gets away and who dies,’ explained Stephanie Taylor, who plays the cutter. ‘Our biggest fear is if these people stop believing in us because then we’ll die.’
Echoing modern notions that the winner conquers all, and that immorality deserves reward, Macbeth digs into the roots of Greek tragedy, said Loftus.
The marriage between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth is one of equal partners. Although Macbeth is often interpreted as weak, Simon Blackhall portrays a very warm and strong Macbeth. ‘It’s a tragedy; there’s no way out for Macbeth,’ said Blackhall. ‘Along with that there’s also a lot of humanity in the play-the visceral language equates to this rawness.’
The Florence production of Macbeth features an ensemble cast of actors from Broadway to the Stratford Theatre, from America, Rome, Pisa, and the U.K.
‘When I heard about this project, I knew I had to be a part of it,’ said Baron Kelly, who has appeared on Broadway, Off Broadway, and in regional theatres across America. On his role as Duncan, the king, he recounted that Loftus told him, “‘I’m sorry you came all this way just to get killed.'”
The murders take place in the courtyard of the Bargello, where prisoners were once executed. ‘Macbeth is an incredibly bloody play, and in medieval times criminals used to be hung in the courtyard,’ said Elia Nichols who plays Lady Macbeth. ‘Very little set was needed. Macbeth is set in Scotland during the Middle Ages, so all we needed was a castle.’
Works of art in Florence are echoed in the costumes, designed by Dagmar Lise Pedersen. One of Lady Macbeth’s costumes, a cape with fabric relief sculptures of babies’ heads, signifying a central theme of the play: Macbeth’s willingness to slaughter innocence in order to fulfill ambition. It was inspired by a wooden sculpture in the Bargello, the Madonna della Misericordia.
Commenting on her approach to the production, Loftus explained, ‘We wanted a violent Macbeth to show people what not to do. We’re in a world where horrible wars happen and we never see it around us-we live in a society that’s become disaffected.’