The Scotsman Sessions #51: Charlene Boyd and Keith Fleming

Welcome to The Scotsman Sessions. With the performing arts world shutting down for the foreseeable future, we are commissioning a series of short video performances from artists all around the country and releasing them on scotsman.com, with introductions from our critics. Here, Keith Fleming and Charlene Boyd revisit their roles as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in Dominic Hill and Frances Poet’s radical reimagining of the Scottish Play, first performed at the Citizens’ Theatre in Glasgow in 2017 and re-named The Macbeths.

It was in the autumn of 2017 that the Citizens’ Theatre unveiled its spectacularly intense new studio version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, cut to a super-brief 70-minute length, played by just two actors, and re-titled The Macbeths. Staged entirely on and around the sweat-tangled bed where the couple both make love and endure their horrific blood-soaked nightmares, and adapted by director Dominic Hill and writer Frances Poet, this was Macbeth as the shared bad dream of a couple torn apart and then destroyed by their failure to listen to their own moral misgivings about the murder of the king, Duncan, and all the savagery it unleashes.

As the drama unfolded in the Citizens’ Circle Studio, blood began almost literally to leak from the drawers below the bed; first the bloody baby-clothes of the couple’s lost children, then the creaky machinery of the Macbeths’ spying operations on their supposed enemies, full of the taped cries of victims, and finally a drawer full of nothing but blood, steadily smearing and filthying the sheets until the play’s bloody end. The whole scene was bathed in smoky half-darkness by lighting designer Stuart Jenkins; and Matthew Whiteside’s music and Tom Penny’s heart-stopping sound design contributed to one of the most gripping and visceral experiences in the last decade of Scottish theatre.

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Here, we see the original cast of the production - Charlene Boyd as Lady Macbeth, and Keith Fleming as Macbeth - play out a superbly vivid monochrome fragment from the pivotal scene in the story of the Macbeths’ moral breakdown. As it begins, in one one of the most famous and chilling passages of stage poetry ever written, Lady Macbeth is conjuring up elemental spirits of “direst cruelty” to help her execute the murder; so that when her husband appears, offering a most eloquent moral argument as to why they should “proceed no further”, she is ready to turn on him with wildcat ferocity, taunting him with accusations of cowardice, and of little love for her, whom he has pledged to make his queen.

Charlene Boyd as Lady Macbeth in The Macbeths

In the autumn of 2018, The Macbeths was revived for a small-scale tour around Scotland; this time, it was given a fascinating gender shift, with Lucianne McEvoy’s remarkable Macbeth - and her female partner, played again by Charlene Boyd - struggling to live with the path of violence to which they had committed themselves.

Here, though, Boyd and Keith Fleming - who live together in Glasgow - recapture the explosive power of that first 2017 production, intensified by the dark intimacy of the Circle Studio setting, in one of the last shows staged there before its demolition to make way for the theatre’s current rebuilding. Both are powerful players on the Scottish theatre scene and on screen. Boyd features on River City and in the recent BBC series The Trial Of Christine Keeler, and recently appeared in The Monstrous Heart at the Traverse; Fleming plays Lesley in Outlander, and has taken on stage roles ranging from Peer Gynt at Dundee in 2007 (another Dominic Hill production) to Macduff in the international tour of David Greig’s Macbeth sequel, Dunsinane.

Here, though, they focus unwaveringly on one of the key moments in the whole tragic canon; and as Macbeth rolls out his arguments for the life rich in honour and respect that they might enjoy, if they step back from this murder, watch how the eye of Lady Macbeth, already fully possessed by her demons, never flickers from the bloody purpose that will destroy them both.

The Citizens’ Theatre is working on a full-length filmed version of The Macbeths, to be made available online later this year. See https://www.citz.co.uk for further details of the Citizens’ lockdown work.

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