Friday, 22 April 2016

Voodoo Macbeth

I’m on a Shakespeare binge at the moment with all the programmes and events to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death tomorrow. I rounded off some bedtime reading last night with the passage from Simon Callow’s Road to Xanadu covering Orson Welles’ 1936 production of Macbeth for the Federal Theater Project. The so-called "Voodoo Macbeth" has always held a special fascination for me, the production’s all-black cast and its transposition to Haiti mark this out as one of the more unique adaptations of The Scottish Play. 4mins worth of footage from the production’s climactic scene is available but it doesn’t quite do justice to Callow’s vivid and exciting account – the riot of colorful costumes, the striking jungle castle set, the innovative, eerie lighting, and the cacophonous voodoo drumming.

Macbeth (right stage) meets with the Three Witches (centre stage)

Callow indulges in some terrific anecdotes too, my favourite, Welles just 21 years old, enjoying some bacchanal nights in Harlem’s bars and fleshpots with his Macbeth, Jack Carter, a man with Underworld connections, memorably described by John Houseman as “the most furious man I ever knew”. Macbeth productions are steeped in bad luck but Houseman remembers the production as one of the few occasions where Welles didn’t break a leg or suffer a similar calamity, but one dismissive critic evidently felt the touch of evil – when his review appeared, one of the cast members, said to be a genuine witch doctor, placed a hex on the critic who took ill the following day and was dead by the end of that week... Wikipedia has an excellent overview on the production here

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