11YO has been studying Macbeth in high school this term, and as there was a production of it at our local Leeds Arts Centre recently, I thought I’d give her the opportunity to experience it as it was intended – as a piece of live theatre. (She’s also seen this episode of Blackadder and wanted to know what it was all about!)
I’ll be honest, I did have some doubts about this. Obviously Macbeth in particular is one of Shakespeare’s darker plays. I haven’t seen last year’s film version, but I’m sure that it uses the ample opportunities which the script offers to make it as spooky and violent as possible. So I certainly don’t think I’d have taken 11YO to the cinema to see that, but I felt I’d be on fairly safe ground with a good quality local theatre company production. There’s a crucial difference between theatre and film – at the theatre you have a much stronger sense of actors playing a part. You see them walk off stage in between scenes and the set design is only ever an interpretation of reality – so I don’t think a theatre production can ever be as scary as a Hollywood movie intent on whipping up the fear factor. And as it turned out, there were plenty of other parents who felt the same way, as 11YO certainly wasn’t the youngest child in the audience.
The performance itself was very good amateur theatre. It obviously wasn’t as good as some of the performances I’ve seen in Stratford, for example, but Macbeth and Lady Macbeth had a real chemistry, and Macbeth’s horror at what he’s done after murdering Duncan was beautifully played. 11YO really liked the way that the three white-faced witches roamed the theatre shushing the audience before walking onto the stage to begin their opening scene. The scene of light relief with the night porter had some Basil Fawlty and Manuel style slapstick violence, which prompted quite a bit of giggling too.
The other issue about taking an 11YO to see Shakespeare is of course the language. Plenty of adults are turned off by Shakespeare because they find early modern English too difficult to follow, and I knew it was going to be a challenge for a year 7 pupil. As preparation, we spent a couple of weeks leading up to the performance reading through our own copy of the play. We didn’t get through the whole play, and I think this made a difference, as there was definite fidgeting and sighing in the seat next to me during the later scenes which we hadn’t read at home.
So did she enjoy it? In all honesty, what she enjoyed most was putting on make-up and smart clothes, and having a ‘grown up’ night out on a Saturday night. Her favourite bit of the play – Banquo’s ghost. She thought the ‘scary’ scenes were funny rather than disturbing – but I think/ hope this was just because 11 year olds aren’t used to seeing adults on stage pretending to have sword fights. And crucially – she says she now knows what Macbeth is all about far more than she did from reading the play at school.
So am I a bad mother, dragging my child to see something too grown up, that she’s not developmentally ready for? It could, I suppose, have backfired on me – she could have hated it and been really scared. But the same is true for anything that we let our children watch or read – we can’t police everything they watch on TV or YouTube. And after all, Macbeth is nothing if not drama – it’s meant to be performed on stage, not stumbled over by a class of 30 bored teenagers. If you agree with the basic premise that the next generation should discover Shakespeare (and I do), then that’s surely got to include seeing his plays at the theatre. What do you think?