Day 96: Bloody Macbeth

“That isn’t fair, Mom,” the younger declared. “Why do you get screen time when I don’t?”

“This isn’t for fun, this is for work.”

She pouted. “That is not true. It’s not for work. You’re just watching it because you feel like watching it, and that’s not fair.”

“No, I really do have to watch it … I want to show this play in my class tomorrow and I’m trying to find the right bit … ”

“Fine, then I get to watch it too.”

“Oh, fine, come on then.”

She clambered onto my lap and together we sat back to watch a clammy-skinned and shiny-eyed Dame Judi, who was clearly having a rough night.

“Out damned spot: out I say.”

Dame Judi licked her fingers like a cat licking its paws. The younger was transfixed.

After the line, “all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand,” the next line in Macbeth is “Oh, oh, oh.”

But in this performance, from the late ’70s, Dame Judi does not say, “Oh, oh, oh.”

Instead, a kind of screech begins to build in Dame Judi’s throat. At first it is thin and reedy but slowly, agonizingly, it builds in volume and intensity.

I pressed pause.

“You know what?” I said, “I think I’m going to watch this later.”

“No!” insisted the younger. “I want to see it!”

“Oh fine,” I said because I was, frankly, too hot to argue (it was 95 in Santa Monica on Sunday) and hit play again.

The screech goes on.

And on.

And on.

After a period of time that was probably only about ten seconds but which felt much longer, I hit pause again. [1]

“Yeah. I’m going to watch this later,” I said.

“Why???” protested the younger, peevishly.

“Because it’s … uhhh … disturbing?” I offered.

“It’s not disturbing to me!” she declared stoutly.

“Yeah, well, it’s disturbing to me,” I said, shutting the laptop.

“Let’s make popsicles instead!” I proposed brightly.

A punnet of strawberries, a dash of simple syrup, and a whiz in the blender later and I was feeling (mostly) more Martha Stewart than Lady MacB as I licked the bright red puree off my fingers. [2]


The morning after, punchy after a night during which the elder wheezed and coughed like he was about to expire from consumption, and the younger, infuriated by the coughing, loudly expressed her opinion that he be dispatched with all due haste one way or the other, the duck-rabbit tried, ineffectually, to finish writing its Macbeth lecture. Called upon by the younger to ventriloquize Winnie-the-Pooh (it was his birthday, and he had a lot to say), the duck-rabbit swiftly abandoned all hope of finishing the lecture.

And yet, even as the prospect of not being well-prepared for lecture rattled the duck-rabbit, it also took comfort from the following thought: if worse comes to worst and I run out of material, I can break out the Fassbender.

The Fassbender is the duck-rabbit’s preferred lecture-saving maneuver. I’ve used it on more than one occasion to enliven an otherwise deathly dull lecture on Jane Eyre. I know from Em that it can even, with careful planning, be deployed successfully in a graduate seminar setting.

With Jane Eyre, of course, one has an entire feature-length film’s worth of Fassbender to work with, whereas with Macbeth—which isn’t out here till December—one must make do with a two-minute “teaser.” Still, I reasoned, there was absolutely no reason why I couldn’t simply play the two minutes of Fassbender in a loop for the final 20 minutes of class.

As I contemplated this prospect, I started actually looking forward to the lecture, at least to the last 20 minutes. And it was at this precise moment, dear readers, that inspiration struck. I was driving to campus singing along to Queen and feeling unstoppable (“I’m a racing car passing by like Lady Godiva”!) when I had, quite suddenly, what is possibly the best idea I have had since “Breaking Bread.” Now, is it better than “Breaking Bread”? Well, I’m not sure I’d go that far! But it’s definitely the best idea for a musical since Springtime for Hitler.

Macbeth: The Rock Opera.

Imagine Trainspotting directed by Dennis Potter instead of Danny Boyle, and you’ll get the idea.

Let’s face it, the Scottish play is simply gagging to be a musical, and specifically a musical scored by Queen. “Musicke. The Witches Dance, and vanish,” is what the stage directions say before the three witches disappear. They might as well say, Macbeth launches into “It’s a Kind of Magic,” with the witches singing backup.


Later, high on adrenalin (and heroin, obvs.) after killing Duncan in a back alley knife fight, Macbeth serenades Lady M with “Crazy little thing called love” in a Glaswegian dive bar. The assembled company then toasts Lady M with Tennent’s and Irn-Bru and launch into a stirring rendition of “Killer Queen.”

I personally think that Fassbender could reprise his role for the musical version. Not so sure about Marianne Cotillard’s singing chops. What’s that you say, she was amazing as Edith Piaf, la la la la, sorry I can’t hear you. Look, what we want is someone with real Scottish heritage. But not some well-known, talented, actressy type. No. I’m thinking an unknown would be preferable: perhaps someone untrained and, frankly, with no discernible acting talent, could be an interesting way to go, don’t you think? Someone with a pan-ethnic, aquiline-nosed appeal, perhaps? Someone, ideally, who could bring out Lady M’s heretofore under-appreciated bookish aspect (“your face, my thane, is as a booke ….”) while also being acquainted with Queen’s back catalogue and ready to have her fass bended at short notice.

If you can think of anyone suitable, do let me know.


[1] OK, I just timed it. The screech goes on for about 27 seconds, beginning at about 3:12 in the YouTube clip.

[2] Although there is some Lady Macb in Martha’s persona, isn’t there? In the same way that there is (much more obviously) in Claire Underwood? No?


6 thoughts on “Day 96: Bloody Macbeth

  1. Paul K. Anonymous says:

    Who could doubt for a millisecond that Duck-Rabbit itself would be perfect and utterly ravishing for the part of Lady Mac the Knife in MACBETH:THE ROCK OPERA? A casting-call from Heaven. Equally, or maybe even a tad more important, it’s high time to unearth another Shakespearian rock masterpiece. Who doesn’t recall the thrilling advent of Bob Carleton’s RETURN TO THE FORBIDDEN PLANET (“Shakespeare’s Forgotten Rock and Roll Masterpiece.” ).. It well deserved its 1989 Laurence Olivier Award for best new musical. This stroke of genius was a (long overdue & much improved) musical version of Fred Wilcox’s 1956 movie FORBIDDEN PLANET, starring Walter Pidgeon, Anne Frances, Leslie Nielson, and, unforgettably, Robby the Robot: –THE TEMPEST memorably mutated into gawdawful SF (redeemed at last by its transformation into Rock & Roll), So far as I know there isn’t a performance video of RETURN TO THE FORBIDDEN PLANET, although there are CDs of its music. See the Wikipedia article on it for performance history and pictures of its posters. As many of you know, I collect original paintings by Rembrandt and Picasso, though I haven’t yet found any at the right price. Meanwhile, In the small science fiction gallery in my study I DO have an ORIGINAL POSTER of the (Covent Garden) Cambridge Theater’s production of RETURN TO THE FORBIDDEN PLANET, that I got when I saw their performance in London. Google the musical, and you’ll find pictures of this magnificent poster. Or y’all come by for a look during an SF gallery tour led my myself or Ellen Anonymous–free, of course, to future fans of MACBETH:THE ROCK OPERA. Can’t wait for its opening night . . .

    • Paul, would you believe that I actually saw that West End production of Return to the Forbidden Planet at the Cambridge Theatre! I went with some friends for my birthday, it must have been either my 15th or 16th. (So .. completely .. nerdy, I know. I was a teenager who loved Shakespeare AND musicals. I can’t believe any readers of this blog are terribly surprised to learn this …) Who knows, perhaps you and I were at the same performance! Also, your timing in mentioning this production is perfect: I have to teach The Tempest in a couple of hours. Fassbender can’t help me out with this one … but maybe Robbie the Robot can?

  2. A conundrum I’ve been mulling over this morning is where in the production “Under Pressure” should feature. On the one hand, I like the idea of completely ripping out the “Is this a dagger which I see … ” soliloquy (it’s not like it’s one of the good ones, right?) and just replacing it wholesale with Macbeth singing “Under Pressure.” Equally tempting, however, would be for Macbeth to sing it in a duet with Banquo’s ghost at the banquet scene. The appeal of this option is that David Bowie could play Banquo’s ghost, and sing his original part in the song. (To be clear, I think that Bowie, wraith-like as he is, should only play Banquo’s ghost, not live Banquo. Bowie as live Banquo would be ridiculous.)

  3. Laura says:

    I know little about Shakespeare but I have that “you’re on media. that’s not fair” conversation with regularity. E. often ends up watching slightly inappropriate footage in the name of something, oh my career I guess.

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