By the Pricking of My Thumbs

After To Wit: To Woo, I got involved with a number of different projects and it was two years before I returned to Shakespeare. I wanted to turn to the dark side, to explore the 'something wicked' that we find so often in Shakespeare. I wanted “blood and destruction (to be) so in use.” I wanted to show that “hell is empty and all the devils are here”, so I approached the Customs House to see if they would be willing to co-produce a show to be performed in the venue’s Community Room, now the Dalton Suite.

They agreed; they’d provide the rehearsal space, the technical side and the publicity, while we’d provide the script, the props and the actors. We’d split the box office takings (in, I have to say, a way which was most generous to us).

The extracts were from King Lear, Richard II, Richard III, Titus Andronicus, The Tempest, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hamlet and we’d use Puck, whose Protean abilities to turn himself into something else (a “filly foal” or “a roasted crab” apple or even a “three foot stool”) meant he could morph into another Shakespeare character such as Lear or the Porter in Macbeth, as the link between the scenes.

Dora Frankel came on board again and all those ideas we’d tossed around about the Witches when we were going to do Macbeth were resurrected to great effect, with one critic talking about them scuttling about like black spiders. We even sent one out into the audience, cabaret-style, to sing Johnny Dankworth and Cleo Laine’s Dunsinane Blues.

We found someone who could make a really realistic severed head of our Macbeth. When one of the Witches produced it, dripping blood, there were genuine gasps of horror from the audience.

And I bet you didn’t know that the most effective way of gouging out an eye on stage is to use a tinned lychee. It makes a most satisfying squelch when you stamp on it! As Gloucester crawled through the audience (all entrances and exits were through the audience in this show), blood pouring from his eye sockets (just a bit of sleight of hand there!), Regan and Cornwall, giggling, laughing and excited beyond measure at their foul deed, rushed off stage almost (but not quite!) tearing each other’s clothes off.

That was the start, the first scene. Well, start as you mean to go on, that’s what I say!

And that show, I’m afraid, was my Shakespearean swan song.

<Sad Face> <Again>