Curse of Macbeth strikes again as York Shakespeare Project postpones show

Hand-washing for our times: Amanda Dales as Lady Macbeth in York Shakespeare Project’s now postponed Macbeth. Picture: Amanda Dales

YORK Shakespeare Project’s Macbeth should have opened this evening, but the curse of “the Scottish play” has struck again.

Although Macbeth is play number 29 in Shakespeare’s chronology of 38 plays, YSP had held back the Bard’s tragedy big hitter until production number 36 of 37 as part of a grand finale to the 20-year project in 2020, with The Tempest as the final curtain this autumn.

Now, however, theatre’s harbinger of bad luck and its Weird Sisters have delivered double, double toil and trouble to YSP, whose March 30 to April 4 run at the John Cooper Studio, Theatre @41 Monkgate, is mothballed until further notice under the Coronavirus shutdown.

Amanda Dales, left, as Lady Macbeth, and Emma Scott, as Macbeth, in rehearsal for York Shakespeare Project’s Macbeth. Picture: John Saunders

“We were six rehearsals short of the finishing line,” says YSP’s Tony Froud, who was to have played Ross in Shakespeare’s dark tale of ambition, murder and supernatural forces. 

“The ideal solution would be to pick it up again with the same company of actors later in the year, but there could yet be complications.”

Come what may, Tony envisages the project still finishing with The Tempest, originally planned for this October, rather than Macbeth going on hold to form the closing chapter.

Emma Scott as Macbeth in Leo Doulton’s futuristic cyberpunk production of Macbeth. Picture: Amanda Dales

“I would be very surprised if we didn’t want to retain The Tempest as the finale. It being Shakespeare’s final play [that he wrote alone], it is entirely appropriate to round things off with The Tempest, inviting as many people as possible who have been involved over the 20 years to join us for the celebrations.”

The final production is likely to be accompanied by an exhibition charting YSP from 2001 formation to 2021 conclusion. “The York Explore library is expressing an interest in presenting it, ideally to coincide with The Tempest’s run.”

Where The Tempest may be staged is yet to be decided after the initial plan to work in tandem with York Theatre Royal this autumn fell by the wayside. “It’s now the case that we’re looking into the possibility of doing a touring production as our final show, culminating in a York run,” says Tony.

“We were six rehearsals short of the finishing line,” says Tony Froud, who was to have played Ross in this week’s run of York Shakespeare Project’s Macbeth

Should Macbeth have gone ahead tonight, Leo Doulton’s production would have been set in a dystopian “cyberpunk” future and performed in a promenade style, with the action taking place on the move, around the audience, led by Emma Scott’s Macbeth. Two performances on Wednesday would expressly have been for schools’ audiences studying the play.

“Macbeth is a magnificent tragedy about the earthly struggle between the forces of order and chaos, and how the world becomes corrupted by Macbeth’s strange bargains,” says Doulton, who made his YSP directorial debut at the helm of last October’s stripped-back Antony And Cleopatra.

“Cyberpunk is an exciting genre for exploring, highlighting, and visualising those ideas for a modern audience. We no longer fear witches, but we are still scared of our society being shaped by powers with no concern for those below them.”

Leo Doulton: director of York Shakespeare Project’s production of Macbeth. Picture: Amanda Dales

Whenever we more than three shall meet again, let us look forward to Doulton’s show “capturing all the original’s epic drama in its poetry and production” with Emma Scott in the title role. In the meantime, now is the time to follow Lady Macbeth’s latter-day practice: constant hand washing, over and over again.

York Shakespeare Project’s cast for Macbeth

Macbeth: Emma Scott

Lady Macbeth: Amanda Dales

Banquo, Siward: Clive Lyons

Fleance, Donalbain, Son, Young Siward: Rhiannon Griffiths

Macduff: Harry Summers

Duncan, Lady Macduff, Menteith: Jim Paterson

Malcolm: Eleanor Frampton

Lennox: Nick Jones

Ross: Tony Froud

Angus: Sarah-Jane Strong

First Witch, First Murderer, Doctor: Joy Warner

Second Witch, Second Murderer, Gentlewoman: Alexandra Logan

Third Witch, Third Murderer, Caithness, Seyton: Chloe Payne.

The York Shakespeare Project cast in rehearsal for Macbeth. Picture: John Saunders


Director: Leo Doulton

Set designer: Charley Ipsen

Lighting designer: Neil Wood

Costume designer: Scarlett Wood

Sound designer: Jim Paterson.

Did you know?

WILLIAM Shakespeare’s play Macbeth is said to be cursed, so actors avoid saying its name when in the theatre. The euphemism “the Scottish Play” is used instead.

Should an actor utter the name “Macbeth” in a theatre before a performance, however, they are required to perform a ritual to remove the curse.

When the Grand Opera House reopened after a £4 million refurbishment on September 26 1989, the York theatre tempted fate by presenting Macbeth (in a Balinese version) as the first show, 33 years since the last professional stage performance there. Only two years later, the theatre closed again, staff arriving to find the doors locked.