Sunday, August 10, 2008

When Dr. Who Meets Shakespeare's 'Macbeth'

A tale told by a menacing alien life-form

By Oliver Pritchett
Last Updated: 12:01am BST 10/08/2008

Some people have suggested that my new production for the Royal Shakespeare Company is gimmicky, but I am convinced that the Dalek is absolutely right for the part of Macbeth. This is not a case of casting some television celebrity just to get more bums on seats; in fact my aim is to get more heads poking up nervously from behind seats. This casting is perfectly consistent with the spirit of Shakespeare's tragedy.

The Dalek had a career in the theatre before he went off to seek domination of the universe. He spent some time in rep and was a much-praised Tin Man in the Chichester production of The Wizard of Oz. He also knows his Shakespeare; he was very effective in the crowd scene (near the back) in Julius Caesar and his gun-stalk was seen sticking out from behind the arras in the 1987 Stratford production of Hamlet.

So you can see, as well as being a TV star, he is a seriously committed actor and a pro. The theatre runs through his circuits. Of course, his craggy, portable air-conditioner looks make him perfect for the role of Macbeth.

Although he is undoubtedly a celebrity, he has mucked in with the rest of the company and, right from the start, he told us to call him Dal.

He is somebody who has his runners firmly on the ground and he is also incredibly modest.

After our successful first night when we all said: "Dalek, you were wonderful," he shrugged his turret and diffidently murmured: "I am simp-ly pro-grammed to re-peat the lines."

We have all had to remember that we must never utter the words "Dr Who" in the theatre. It's an old superstition from the planet Skaro where Dal started out in the business. Apparently, if you say "Dr Who" all sorts of things go wrong - fuses blow, sparks fly out of your torso, vaporising guns fail to fire at the crucial moment and you could even melt into a pool of slime.

In rehearsals I confess I forgot a couple of times and said the forbidden words - which meant that Dal had to rotate his turret anti-clockwise three times and spit on his control panel, to ward off the bad luck. Eventually, we all learned to refer to Dr Who as "the inter-galactic series."

To complement the vibrant voice of the Dalek, with its magical combination of laryngitis and constipation, I decided to get the actresses playing the three witches to model their performances on sat nav systems.

I firmly believe that Shakespeare, on his journeys between London and Stratford-upon-Avon, would have met such creatures at crossroads along the way and they would have given him misleading directions, so I decided this was valid within the context of the play.

  • Read more from Oliver Pritchett
  • So, at the beginning of Macbeth, the witches greet the Dalek and Banquo on the heath and the first witch says: "At the next roundabout, turn left," the second witch adds: "You have reached your destination," and the third one declares: "When it is safe to do so, make a U-turn."

    This creates just the right atmosphere of mystery and confusion and it is no wonder that the Dalek Macbeth croaks: "Your or-ders have not been under-stood. My circuits are over-heating."

    After the encounter with the sat nav hags, the clear idea is planted in Macbeth's memory bank that he is, in fact, named Thane from the planet Cawdor.

    As Lady Macbeth, we have that brilliant actress Rosalind Peabody. Viewers will remember her from the popular TV series Space Station Zero Nine in which she is held hostage by a giant turquoise sponge.

    In our production she wears a skin-tight one-piece silver foil jump-suit. We did a lot of workshopping to get the voice right.

    At first we considered the tones of the Tesco automatic check-out, which had the bossiness, but lacked the right degree of menace, so we settled for the BT woman who tells us we have dialled an incorrect number.

    There is no doubting her authority now as she orders the Dalek Macbeth to exterminate Duncan. "I will o-bey," he replies, trundling off down the dark corridor of Dunsinane.

    The famous scene in Act II is more effective now as Lady Macbeth declares: "The dagger which I see before me has not been recognised. Please check and try again."

    I believe I have also heightened the tension when Banquo's ghost materialises at the feast. Now Banquo wears gold lamé thigh-length boots, a tight-fitting scarlet tunic and has what looks like an upturned colander on his head. No wonder Macbeth looks appalled.

    I have taken a tiny liberty at the end, but I am convinced that Shakespeare would agree with me that a shower of meteorites is more spectacular than Birnam Wood on the move.

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