Shakespeare’s beloved and darkest tragedy, ‘Macbeth,’ tells the story of a man who, in trying to gain everything, loses all that he and his wife hold dear. The play demonstrates the corruptive power of ambition unchecked by a moral conscience and reflects on the meaning of gender, fate and our very existence.
Throughout the Scottish play, many of the characters, specifically the titular Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, behave in a similar nature to chess pieces in a game. I decided to design the ensemble as a set of chess pieces, each with a specific set of moves and goals determined by the players, the Witches who control the game.
However, in ‘Macbeth’, the main conflict is internal, with the characters battling their moral conscience even more so than their external oppositions. In this production, the characters face a mirror of themselves on the chessboard, each having a good and evil side that they must choose between.
Whenever the witches are present, the characters assemble statically on stage, which transforms into a chessboard, providing a very literal visual representation of their inner conflict at that point. Other than this, the characters move freely across the stage, unrestricted and able to perform fully. At moments of doubt and internal conflict, often when monologuing (‘is this a dagger I see before me’ ‘out damned spot”), the character’s opposing white chess piece – their moral conscience – will lurk behind them onstage.
The characters are assigned chess pieces depending on their nature and power over the course of the story, as opposed to their literal titles. For this reason, Macbeth is the King chess piece, not Duncan, as his experience determines the story, which does not end until his death.
The production’s colour palette consists only of red, black and white; the ensemble as the black and white chess pieces, and the three witches in bright contrasting red. In this retelling, red represents deception and illusion; the play contains many apparitions and visions, such as the dagger, blood and ghosts, all of which will be projected or painted on the skin in red. The witches – the personification of evil – are clothed entirely in large flowing red cloaks.
The chess characters work together as a cohesive set and are all made entirely from the same material. The ensemble wears sharp sculptural costumes, which make up the silhouette of their pieces using calculated pleating and origami techniques combined with suit tailoring. The black and white chess pieces mirror each other, with the moral conscience pieces being the exact replica of the ambition pieces but realised in white. The stage reflects the nature of these costumes – a black and white chessboard, seemingly pleated folding, creating interest and rises for the characters to perform on.
Macbeth final costume illustrations and character line up.