1) I understand this is not the first production of Shakespeare's Macbeth to be performed at William Head. What do you think makes it such a popular choice as a prison theatre production?
Macbeth was performed by WhoS in 1983 and you can see photos from that and many other productions in the lobby of the theatre (formerly the prison's gymnasium) as you come in. Out of all Shakespeare's plays, this one seems the most obvious choice for a prison with male inmates. Macbeth is a very masculine play, about power and ambition and the violence often required to attain and hold on to power. It is a highly male-dominated world in the play, set in Scotland in the middle Ages. Even the female roles in the play are masculine – the 3 witches, Lady Macbeth - only Lady Macduff is truly “feminine” and she is promptly killed soon after we meet her!
How is seeing a play at William Head different from seeing one anywhere else?
Driving out, signing in, razor wire fences, no valuables, security, driving to venue, literally a captive audience...
So, after adjusting to this shift from outside to inside, what about the strengths of the show?
Macbeth is Shakespeare's shortest tragedy and this has been trimmed further so it moves along at a good pace. The production is well-designed, especially the costumes, and tightly directed. More impressively the 12 male actors speak the text clearly and with understanding, if not rhythm and poetry. The females are uniformly excellent, especially Karen Lee Pickett as a smiling Lady M. hiding her true emotions beneath her false face and Kate Rubin as one of the witches who makes a couple of quite creepy and very effective transitions from playing a murderer who morphs back into a witch. And I loved the loud but effective drumming that serves to mark scene changes and drive the play forward.
How does it work to have both actors and non-actors working together in the same production?
For me this is the most difficult challenge in seeing a WHoS show, the knowledge you have that the males are inmates and largely inexperienced as actors. This can sometimes create an imbalance in certain scenes, such as those between Macbeth and his wife. Pat Craig who plays Macbeth has never acted before while Karen Pickett has an impressive stage history behind her. Yet, if you are willing to accept this imbalance as part of the package when you go to a WHoS show, then what you can see is the remarkable generosity of spirit and mutual support that is passed between and amongst these actors that is quite moving. And there are moments in the production when Craig's Macbeth finds a level of anger and blustering rage that I felt was quite right in his performance, especially in the terrific banquet scene where he is haunted by the ghost of one of his victims and former close friend Banquo and again in the final battle scenes. Other inmates bring a natural physicality and swagger to their roles which also works well, playing men living together in a closed and often violent male-dominated world. In particular I liked the work of Ryan Love, Otto Lang and Larry Iverson in their various roles.
Do you have any reservations about the choices made by the director Ian Case?
This may make me sound like a prude, but I'm not fond of realistic portrayals of violence onstage. Theatre has a long history of stylizing violence or playing it as happening offstage, and frankly, I prefer things done that way. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule (even in Shakespeare) but I found a couple of murders in the production a bit over the top in their use of fake blood and explicit acting out of throat-cutting and being stabbed in the neck with a sword. I wouldn't enjoy these scenes in a regular theatre production, but when played by men who are inmates in a federal penitentiary, some of whom have committed violent crimes themselves including murder, I wish director Ian Case had steered the show away from this one element that I did find unsettling, but not in a good way.