“Stars hide your fires”: Macbeth to be performed in pitch black at new Pleasance show

Macbeth in Pitch Black

Macbeth in Pitch Black - Credit: Archant

As Macbeth himself says in Shakespeare’s great tragedy, “Stars, hide your fires, let not light see my deep and black desires.” Over 400 years since the play was first performed, however, one theatre company is taking that line more literally than most.

From November 4, Islington’s Pleasance theatre will be hosting Macbeth in Pitch Black, an innovative new production by London Contemporary Theatre that does exactly what it says on the tin.

Well, almost. The play isn’t quite performed in complete darkness, explains director Kevin Williams, 28, but the scarce sources of light will be delivered through devices that naturally appear in the show.

The five man cast will use torches and mobile phones – the story is an adaptation set in the modern day – to illuminate certain key moments, but for the majority of time the audience will be plunged into darkness as they witness Macbeth in the round like never before.

“When doing any kind of revival, I think there has to be a good purpose behind it,” says Williams. “I think we should constantly be looking for ways to communicate a story better with an audience.

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“The reason Macbeth lends itself to this different kind of format is because it’s essentially a play full of secret meetings and clandestine conversations that could well happen in the dark anyway, and I want to give the audience the experience of being an eavesdropper in that house or the area in which the play’s taking place.”

A tale of murder, lust and witchcraft, the play tells the story of General Macbeth and his ambitious plot to become King of Scotland. It has long been regarded as one of Shakespeare’s darkest plays and when London Contemporary Theatre started performing shows in the shadows 18 months ago, it was the first to be chosen.

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Since then, they have also performed A Christmas Carol in Pitch Black, but with Halloween closest on the horizon, the black magic and frightful scares of the ‘Scottish play’ are perfect for the season.


“Witches and the occult were used in Shakespeare’s text because in those days those were things that people were actually afraid of. We’re not afraid of witches anymore, so our focus has been very much on trying to take the purpose behind a certain reference or character Shakespeare has made, as opposed to its literal interpretation.

“Obviously you’ve got people in the dark and if you just make a loud noise, it’s going to be scary, but we’ve done a lot of work on what scares us in modern times.”

With the physical aspect of performance rendered almost useless, Macbeth in Pitch Black – which stars Calum Hughes McIntosh as the eponymous war general – is no doubt a challenge for its cast, but it is also a unique experience for the audience who have to play extra close attention to every line of Shakespeare’s verbose wordplay. Williams admits that there is “a little bit of a contract with the audience” to be made, but insists that one of their core beliefs when making the show is that on a base level it could still work as a production with the lights on.

Rather than simply restricting themselves by using darkness as a gimmick, they first establish the basis of a normal play and then look at how the text can be enhanced by using darkness as a “blank canvas” of opportunity.

The directoradds: “There’s a lot of adaptations and twists people put on Shakespeare that spend a lot of time trying to bend the text to fit their new idea of how to do it.

“With this, it’s very much about the idea coming from the original purpose of Shakespeare’s words.”

At the very least, those at the Pleasance are convinced; for four nights, to borrow the words of Banquo, “their candles are all out”.

Macbeth in Pitch Black at the Pleasance November 4-8. Tickets £8-15. Visit london contemporary theatre.com

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