Theatre News

Stewart Lee to rewrite Macbeth scene for the RSC

The comedian is having a stab at rewriting Shakespeare

353625 Stewart Lee BASIC LEE photo by steve ullathorne Web use
Stewart Lee, © Steve Ullathorne

The RSC has announced that comedian and screenwriter Stewart Lee will rewrite a contemporary version of the Porter scene in its upcoming production of Macbeth.

Featuring Alison Peebles as the Porter, the scene comes in the middle of act 2 when a drunken porter pretends to be guarding the gates of hell.

Director Wils Wilson explained: “It felt incredibly important that the scene should be dark and funny, satirical and edgy, as it would have been originally. I really think comedy connects us directly, it gets through our defences and cuts through everything to the heart. I wanted to recapture the spirit and function of the original scene, to give the audience the same kind of experience that they would have had in 1606 – to find themselves suddenly laughing, to find themselves personally involved and implicated in a completely different and very direct way with the core ideas of the play – guilt, hypocrisy, greed.

The production, which opens next month, will star Reuben Joseph and Valene Kane.

Lee said: I am delighted to have been asked by Wils Wilson to rewrite the rubbish Porter scene from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, which is in dire need of a post-alternative comedy makeover.  Alison Peebles is an inspired piece of casting sure to bring the requisite level of attack.  At the moment the scene is two hours long but hopefully will expand in rehearsal.”

Wilson continued: “The Porter is dark, funny, edgy, political, clever, a truth teller – Stewart is all of these things, straight away I knew I wanted to ask him to write it. He’s a brilliant comic writer, absolutely rigorous in pursuit of the right line or word or rhythm. It’s been such a pleasure to work with him on it.

“Stewart has a really deep understanding of how comedy works, and the way he pushes and pulls the relationship with the audience, playing with different levels of reality, it’s a perfect fit. The Porter scene is a strange meta moment in Macbeth and I knew Stewart would enjoy playing with that. There’s a very creative level of discomfort about Stewart’s writing, which is perfect for this moment.”

Speaking about Peebles’ performance, Wilson added: “Alison was the first person I asked to be in this production. She’s a wonderful actor, one of Scotland’s finest, she has such a commanding presence, and she loves that direct relationship with an audience.

“She’s full of mischief and there’s also darkness and depth there as well as real humanity. I also like the fact she is an older woman joking about drinking and sex and misbehaving, Even now that’s an unusual thing to see, it gives a different dynamic, a different edge, a new way in.”