Thursday, September 15, 2016

Was Malcolm Edited?

Last night's rehearsal was a little different. Lady Macbeth couldn't make it, so we skipped most of her scenes. That obviously means it was nothing like an actual run-through of the show. (Though we did run everything else from the entire play.)

The director had emailed us earlier in the day, asking us to raise the stakes for our characters. In other words, she wasn't seeing what each of them was "fighting for" in any given scene. So she gave us a few minutes at the start of rehearsal to go through our scripts and write down some thoughts on what our characters wanted at any given time.

I have to say, I had done this a few times already throughout the process. I try to make that a regular part of my rehearsal process when I am not actually at the theatre, especially early on. But if I'm not projecting that as much as I should be, best to know it now, than later in the month. So, by writing down my thoughts on each scene's stakes, I was in fact able to sharpen some of the perceptions I had about what Malcolm is all about. According to the notes she gave us about the rehearsal at the end of last night's session, the director was satisfied that the stakes are becoming more visible in our performances.

Of course, as I have said from the very start of my entries about this play, Malcolm is an oddity of sorts. Though I have come to appreciate some of his lines more than I did when this show began, (even conceding that there are a few moments of poetry here and there that I didn't consider when we started), he can still slip into pipe-layer territory. (Existing as a device to move the plot or reveal information.) It is my job as an actor to prevent that from happening, and I like to think I am mostly succeeding. But still, there are times his presence is an enigma.

I've theorized before that some earlier draft of Macbeth, unknown to academia and almost certainly never performed, had a larger, more active role for Malcolm. Some of the things he says, and then proceeds to not do indicate to the writer in me that some aspect of his presence was cut from the play, and that the resulting cleave was stitched together to form the narrative as we today know it.

Consider that he flees Scotland. He is then not heard from or seen for quite some time in the play. The next time we do see him, Macduff is coming to get him, to reclaim the throne. In fact, as Malcolm reveals eventually, he does have the support of an English army already. One might conclude fairly that in some version of these events, we see Malcolm and his men charge back into Scotland and restore everything in a far more visible way than he does in the actual version of the play.

"When I shall tread upon the tyrants head, or wear it on my sword..." he says to Macduff at some point. True, by now he is testing Macduff's loyalty and strength, but there is nothing in this supposition to indicate he doesn't intend to come right at Macbeth himself. He of course doesn't and in fact, the two never meet in the entire second half of the play. Never exchange a single line in the whole play.

One could argue of course that when he utters this line, he has not yet been informed by Ross that Macduff's family has been murdered. Between this revelation, and the return to Scotland, Malcolm could have "given" the act of revenge to Macduff, in deference to all that he has lost at the hands of Macbeth. That is in fact basically how I am reconciling things as I play this part, Scotland and order being more on Malcolm's mind than personal revenge. But from a dramatic standpoint, why is such a shift not included within the text? It allows for interesting internal motivations and decisions for the actor playing Malcolm, but those seem to be more of a side effect of the (theoretical) editing I suggested earlier.

Malcolm, at the end of the same scene (4.3) even gives what could almost pass as a troop-rallying speech, if somewhat muted compared to other Shakespearean speeches:

"Come. Go we to the king. Our power is ready;
Our lack is nothing but our leave."

Malcolm then proceeds to march off stage...never in the text to actually engage anyone in battle personally. Though I concede that any given director could stage combat including Malcolm at some point, it is still Macduff who makes the ultimate move by milling Macbeth in a scene designed to that end. In other words, played pure, Malcolm isn't seen doing much on stage once he has "rallied" and returned to Scotland. He shines not like much of a beacon, even though it is he who will ultimately rule the land, and restore it to its proper order as he takes his proper position on the throne.

In the end, my personal speculation about the form the play takes or may have once taken is immaterial when it comes to this production, and almost all others that seek to be mostly pure to the spirit of the text. Because of this, I must work with what I have for Malcolm. All this by way of saying that whether by design and/or by hasty editing, the character's presence is, for lack of a better term, "choppy." Because of this nature, constructing both an overall arc for Malcolm, and infusing any given one of his (mostly) utilitarian speeches with emotion that is consistent with everything else he does has been one of my greatest challenges in this show. Internally, I have a solid, if not intriguing story going on for him, but in the midst of crosses, and scripts and other actors, and remodeling debris and memorization and securing props and so on and so on, I don't yet feel I am tapping into that story I have constructed as a means to inform my outward performance.

This may also be why certain phrases are still at times tripping me up, though I hope to have that eliminated soon.

I'd mention a few other things i did at rehearsal last night, but honestly they are not as interesting as some of the thoughts on Malcolm I've already expressed here today, and about which I thought last night.

Tonight, we run the whole show again, I believe, as we will have Lady Macbeth with us.

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