Macbett by Eugene Ionesco
Good stuff at Newcastle on Tyne’s Northern Stage yesterday. Two generals, Macbett and Banco, put down a rebellion. In payment for their heroic service, the Archduke promises to bestow on them land, titles and cash. But once the war is won and the rebel leaders are slain he reneges on the deal. Seduced by thoughts of power Macbett plots to assassinate the Archduke, marry his widow and crown himself King.
Written during the Cold War, Eugene Ionesco’s Macbett remoulds Shakespeare’s Macbeth into a furiously comic tale of ambition, corruption and excess, creating a tragic farce which takes human folly to its wildest extremes.
Ionesco, as a leading representative of the Theatre of the Absurd, uses Shakespeare’s tale, but does not find any redemption in the restoration and revenge of the ruling parties. For Ionesco life doesn’t work like that. Shakespeare is interested in circles, how things return. Ionesco is interested in spirals, how things degenerate.
The play takes the audience away from the medieval mindset; there is no sense of virtue being betrayed here, and still less intimation of corruption being overcome and undone. The Modernist view of Shakespeare’s play concerns itself not a jot with heaven’s purpose. The difference between war then and war now is that the killing machines used to occupy themselves with the destiny of a few hundred, perhaps a few thousand men, whereas in our own time, the numbers amount to millions.
But Ionesco doesn’t take Shakespeare to task. There is always reverence for the original work, even as the plot and outline are being subverted. The subplot of Macbeth, which can be seen as the study of an individual psychopath, is given no time whatsoever in the text of Macbett, for the latter play is concerned with the absurdity, the madness of all power brokers and those involved in the process of bringing about war.
The production is by the Royal Shakespeare Company.