Edinburgh Fringe 2012
A brilliantly written piece, powerfully performed, let down by poor direction. History (or in this case Herstory) from below gives a voice to the dispossessed to offer an alternative version of some of Macbeth. Lady M is the maid in waiting who witnesses the dirty deeds that night of Duncan’s bloody demise and exacts a different kind of vengeance.
Lady M is potentially a really fantastic piece of theatre, and Annemarie de Bruijn a star in the making on this year’s fringe. She has written a wonderfully clever play which challenges Shakespeare’ official version of Macbeth in ways which open up a very different history, a history from below. She has written one of the most challenging and invigorating plays about Shakespeare for many a long year. Reinventing and retelling the story of the murder of King Duncan, de Bruijn opens up historical discourse, giving voice to the bit players in history, crediting their narratives with a respect and authenticity at best ignored, at worst denied.
Lady M is not Lady Macbeth, but her maid in waiting who has witnessed the immediate aftermath of the slaying of Duncan. Originally cooped up with the chickens, and swilling out the pigs and the garbage, this maid is sent to make the bed for the visiting king to sleep in. The bed she makes up is perfect (she tells us so herself) and she is outraged and shocked to find it despoiled, the king slaughtered like one of her chickens by a maddened Macbeth, dripping blood as she witnesses him leaving the bedroom. Lady Macbeth buys the distraught maid’s silence by promoting her to maid-in-waiting, a position the maid relishes in the politics of the household staff. But which does nothing to help her sleep at night. Tensions and paranoia mount…
It is a very thoughtful and gripping drama, mixed and lightened by flashes of comedy in the style of the Bard himself. It’s a very fine piece of theatre, cleverly and attentively staged. The lighting is suitably mean and moody, the costumes and costume changes beautifully crafted, the music modern. The set is as ever on the Fringe limited, but intensively and interestingly used and reused. It’s a very physical piece of theatre, with de Bruijn giving a masterful performance of her own words. It’s a great piece of theatre.
Where it is let down, and let down badly is by the poor delivery of Shakespeare’s own words drawn from his play. It simply lacks the gravitas and weight which needs to be given to the original language, to the original script. And so the contrasts between Shakespeare’s account of the murder of Duncan and that of the maid’s provided by de Bruijn are lost in what becomes a rather one-dimensional performance however compellingly delivered. Shakespeare demands to be delivered well, not gabbled and snatched at as there is a tendency to do in this performance.
If de Bruijn can be given the direction the parts of her play which are Shakespeare’s requires, and works hard on delivering them to better effect, then this will become one of the best pieces of drama about the Bard the fringe will have seen for a very long time.
De Bruijn is a major new talent at this year’s festival. With support from a director who can bring out the best in her performance, Lady M will become one of the most compelling bits of new theatre around.
And most importantly, will give voice to those previously consigned to bit parts in plays, and in history itself.