Dramatic Moments – where theatre and literature collide #2

Finding the stage in the novel or other work of literature:

excerpt from Light Thickens by Ngaio Marsh.

“On Monday morning there was a further and marked change in the atmosphere. It wasn’t gloomy. It was oppressive and nervous. Rather like the thunderstorm, Peregrine thought. Claustrophobic. Expectant. Stifling.

Peregrine finished blocking. By Wednesday they had covered the whole play and took it through in continuity.

There were noticeable changes in the behaviour of the company. As a rule, the actor would finish a scene and come off with a sense of anxiety or release. He or she would think back through the dialogue, note the points of difficulty and re-rehearse them in the mind or, as it were, put a tick against them as having come off successfully. Then he would disappear into the shadows, or watch for a time with professional interest or read a newspaper or book, each according to his temperament and inclination.

This morning it was different. Without exception the actors sat together and watched and listened with a new intensity. It was as though each actor continued in an assumed character, and no inner reality existed. Even in the scenes that had been blocked but not yet developed there was a nervous tension that knew the truth would emerge and the characters march to their appointed end…

… Macduff has found him.

‘ “Turn, hell-hound. Turn.”

Now the fight. The leap, clash, sweep as Macbeth is beaten backwards. Macduff raises his claymore and they plunge out of sight. A scream. Silence. Then the distant approach of pipe and drums. Malcolm and his thanes come out on the upper landing. The rest of his troops march on at stage level and up the steps with Old Siward, who receives the news of his son’s death.

Macduff comes on downstage, OP, followed by Seyton. Seyton carries his claymore and on it, streaming blood, the head of Macbeth.

He turns it upstage, facing Malcolm and the troops. Macduff has not looked at it.

He shouts, ‘ “Behold where stands the usurper’s cursed head. Hail, King of Scotland.”

The bloods drips into Seyton’s upturned face.

And being well-trained, professional actors, they respond and with stricken faces and shaking lips repeat, ‘ “Hail, King of Scotland.”

October 15, 2023