Saturday, 5 September 2015

Worst Rendition of Macbeth - Ever

This conversation with my sister (see last blog post) triggered a memory of mine from my Senior School days.

 Worst Rendition of Macbeth - Ever

It was the late 1970's - Punk had not yet broken out nationally in the U.K. and Brian Eno still had his beautiful long hair. The Comprehensive Education System was about to take over from the Grammar/Secondary Modern/Apprenticeship Education System.

I attended a Silesian Sisters controlled Catholic High School for Girls (for the sin of passing the ’11 Plus’ Entrance exam).

As part of our 'O' Level English Literature syllabus (now called GCSE's), we were studying Macbeth. (I know – still with the Macbeth theme)

We had already covered the book 'ad nauseam' in the classroom, so the Silesian Sisters decided that we would benefit from watching different versions of the play.

We watched a Japanese black and white film version, where Macbeth was a Japanese Samurai Commander and the 'three witches' were replaced with one old wizard guy with a very scary singing voice and a spindle (like Sleeping Beauty).

It was the goriest, scariest version I have ever seen - gave me nightmares.

During the battle scenes, I was so glad it was in black and white because it was a gore-fest! There must have been swimming pool amounts of fake (hopefully) blood used.  

Then a week later as a 'treat', (not many teenagers think a trip to the theatre to watch Shakespeare is a ‘treat’ and I was also not one of them) we were taken to a live performance put on by students at the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool (if my memory serves me correctly).

The students had obviously put a heck of a lot of work in to it. The set and costumes were really good considering they probably had a ‘pocket money’ budget for it.

They had hit upon the idea of staging Macbeth as a 'Western', complete with a 'two bits a glass of whiskey' saloon.

The theatre was fairly full, even though it was during the day.

We hadn’t been warned by the Sisters beforehand what to expect – which in hindsight, they probably wished they had, because when the curtain came up and out strode a guy dressed like ‘Black Bart’ complete with guns, holster, black clothes, black boots, black Stetson, followed by a young woman dressed as a saloon girl, complete with slapped on makeup, hitched up skirts and ripped fishnet tights – well we did what any bunch of teenage Catholic Girls policed by nuns always does – We roared laughing!

We thought we were at the wrong play at first.

Then the Sisters started swooping like grey crows and grabbing shoulders, arms or ears in vice like grips and whispering unnamed threats of punishment on our return to school if we didn’t shut up. Sister Pygmalion was puce with rage and probably embarrassment.

(I called her Sister Pygmalion because she always managed to get George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Pygmalion’ into the Literature lessons each year. I mused to myself on occasion that she was either a victim of, or a recipient of unrequited love, but had decided on god over marriage).

However, despite the warnings and pinching’s, the laughter was infectious. One row would settle down, for another one to start and it rippled through the section of the audience we were in.

This carried on and I could see we were putting off the poor actors who were doing their best in the circumstances. It must have been a terrible blow to their egos to be laughed at so heartily by a rabble of schoolgirls.

It actually wasn’t meant in any vicious way – if we had been pre-warned, we could have at least been prepared – but we weren’t given the opportunity, the Sisters probably assuming that their psychological grip on us would suffice – so wrong.

By the interval, we were exhausted trying to suppress the fits of giggles as ‘Black Bart’ who was actually playing Macbeth and the ‘Saloon Girl’ who was playing Lady Macbeth strolled around the saloon trying to give their performance over the laughing.

It wasn’t the costumes or that the castle was a saloon that made us laugh – we would have calmed down after a couple of minutes.

It was the fact that the Shakespearean script was being murdered by the actors speaking it in a thick Texan drawl. We had only ever seen it done in a plummy British accent before (even the Japanese version was dubbed) so it just tickled our collective funny bones on all levels. It was a surreal experience.

During the interval, the Sisters gave us all a very public dressing down, telling us we were disgracing our school and destroying its reputation and the school wouldn’t be allowed back in future – culprits will be punished etc..

I did feel bad, but when you’ve got a fit of the giggles, there’s not much you can do apart bite your own fist to try and stop it.

We promised to behave and settled down for the second part.

Out came ‘Black Bart’ he stood mid-stage and a knife was lowered down on a wire and dangled in front of him. On seeing the knife, he tipped his hat back, ‘John Wayne’ style and started to speak.

This very over the top thick as crude oil, Texan accent spilled out– ‘'Aeyas thaeyas urr daregurr ahh say b'fore muy…’’.

Well, it was like a Monty Python sketch – it just set us off again.

The actor actually stopped for a few seconds and stared out at us in an ‘I want to kill you all and chop you into little pieces’ way. I really did feel so sorry for him.

Again, the nuns swooped and we were told in no uncertain terms that any more nonsense, we would be taken out of the theatre and straight back to school for a visit to the Headmistress and a note to all our parents. The next one to laugh would be physically hauled out in front of everyone there.

We managed to contain ourselves for the rest of the play, but obviously, it was ruined for everyone, the poor actors, the remaining audience and also for us.

We were hauled back to school when the play ended and given another ear- blasting and we had to sit down and all write an apology letter.

I never found out whether the letters actually got sent to the Everyman, or whether it was just a punishment, but I hope they did.

Goodness knows what the actors thought was going on – I just hope it didn’t scar them for life.


Copywrite Kate McClelland 2015


  1. Hysterical! I am really not fond AT ALL of re-setting Shakespeare or any of the classics. If you want to reinterpret, why not write a different version?

    Ionesco's Macbett is a great example - one that I was cast in back in the day, playing Lady Macbett & the First Witch (as written). An audience of freshman attended, and they seemed spellbound - or maybe better prepared (or bound and gagged). In any case, there was no inappropriate laughter.

    GREAT post - well written.
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie - ADDandSoMuchMore dot com)
    - ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder -
    "It takes a village to educate a world!"

  2. Hello Madelyn.
    Thank very much for that. I can just picture you as Lady MacBeth. I'm sure you wowed them in to appreciative silence! Lady MacBeth is a fantastic part for an actress to play. I just couldn't take to her dressed as a saloon girl, it seemed to denigrate her in some way. It was the bad accents that killed it stone dead for me though. I'm glad you thought my story was funny - it was at the time :0)