On the long tube journey home, I’m reflecting over this evening, doing Macbeth. Alex explained to the audience before the show “We don’t rehearse, but we train in a way of playing. We think of a show like a game, with specific rules, and we play to the best of our abilities.” It’s crazy, beautiful and challenging. We played well together tonight although it’s kind of hard to remember. I saw some beautiful work by friends. It was a strange, tight intimate show. The point of the game is that we create a frame where it’s possible to lose, and then play to win. The result can be compelling and immediate. Many of my greatest moments of theatre, both watching and playing, came from this sort of work. Tonight we won.
This was The Factory. There are lots of actors making up our numbers. Probably over 100 now, accumulated over a decade and more, with hugely different ranges of experience, and a wide age bracket. We play age blind. Today one of my children was older than me. We play gender blind. Macbeth was played by Leila tonight, and one of my parts was Macduff’s wife, Ross was Alix, etc etc. And we play for the joy and the challenge and the humanity.
We were doing Macbeth in a strange building in Dalston, the Dalston Boys Club. It’s a space we’ve used before although it’s under new management. They were giving us lots of strictures about their venue before we even got started right down to “Make sure people don’t drag chairs across the floor.” At one point one of us remarked “Do they have any idea what they’re in for?” The days are gone that an actor would unexpectedly smash through a wall or precariously dangle from a fragile bar. We like to respond to the space, though.
The space is amazing. It’s full of weird and wonderful stuff. Huge oil paintings of penises, detailed and unusual taxidermy, catholic iconography, royalist propaganda, old books, weird art, antique cabinets, huge beautiful plants, WANKER written on a balcony… We couldn’t really use anything though, at the request of the venue. So we played in a beautiful room, and let the room inform our play without reaching out to directly affect it. It was still there, around what we did. And it was definitely a great place to play Macbeth.
I was a bit affected by the strictures. I felt a little fettered. I felt guilty standing on a chair. I was worried blowing out a candle, in case I’d get wax on something that shouldn’t have wax on it and hear a voice shout “STOP” from the edge. But I did it anyway when it served. In the end it worked in our favour.
The rules and strictures of the venue made for an oppressive feeling and that oppression lent itself to the show. It was dark, literally and figuratively, and doubly so if you have tights over your head. This is the first Factory Macbeth I’ve played for a while where nothing was played for laughs, and it really served it. It was human and light at times, but mostly there was weight. It landed. There were laughs, but they were in the words not the playing.
The show finished about two hours ago and I’m already almost home. That’s an unfamiliar thing. We have a new intake, but lots of us have responsibilities and families and lives. We come together to do a show on a Sunday, and then we pull apart again. We’ve trained enough over the years that we have a spine of shared understanding. Having been away for a while I could just drop in and play and it felt like coming home. “Welcome home,” I even found myself saying to a cherished friend who I had last seen in very different circumstances. And that’s part of what this is now. We had a new player tonight, Nick, who came in as Fleance. There’s still freshness and danger here. And there’s still huge joy and community. So long as it stays odd and challenging and fun, it’s the best way I can think of to spend a Sunday.