The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Footnotes

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Footnotes

Photo © Marc Brenner

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Footnotes

The Footnotes to our episode on The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time include observations on the dramatic irony at work in the play – ironically it’s not as simple as we may think – as well as the uncommon and common challenges of parenting, and the peeling away of labels.

Dramatic Irony
Much of the emotional impact of both the novel and the play comes from the dramatic irony built into the perspective, where we know or understand more about what is happening than Christopher does.  We either intuit the truth, or in the case of the play we often actually see more by how the other characters react, and we recognise when Christopher is misreading a situation. When his mother is in hospital, for example, and Christopher wants to write to her or visit, we appreciate that his hope is futile. The pathos we feel for Christopher comes from this dramatic irony.

As does the humour. Our understanding precedes moments when Christopher gets it and calls out the truth in unexpectedly plain terms. We’re set up for his punch line. For example when Mrs Alexander tells him that his mother and Mr Shears were “very, very good friends” –  “Do you mean they were doing sex?” And of course throughout the play Christopher often responds inappropriately because he is not reading the situation as we conventionally are: “Did you mean to hit the policeman?” – “Yes”. Or when he asks Mrs Alexander to look after his rat Toby while he is in London, and she asks how long he is going for: “Until I go to university.”

Finally it is Christopher’s unique view of the world, his response to the usual flow of things that is so funny, engaging, and even challenging to our understanding. That’s also dramatic irony – where we think we know everything and in fact he shows us otherwise.

 

Joanne Henry as Mrs Alexander and
Connor Curren as Christopher,
UK Tour 2021-22,
c Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

 

Tom Peters as Ed and Conor Curren as Christopher, UK Tour 2021-22, c Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

We’ve all been there
When watching the play I had an even stronger alignment with Christopher’s parents than in the novel. This is partly to do with the perspective of the play which allows us to see them in the flesh so to speak, rather than just in Christopher’s mind. And of course as a parent what strikes me so powerfully is how hard it is for Ed and Judy. They have all of the usual challenges of being a parent, and then some. When they lose their temper or give up because Christopher is unreachable, we do not judge them as much as empathise with them. Who has not faced the humiliation of dealing with a child’s tantrum in public, for example, as Judy does with Christopher in the shop at Christmas? Or snapped at an adolescent who simply won’t budge, as Ed does.

Judy feels, and says, that she is a bad parent. She admits to not having the patience or stamina. We all sometimes fail to overcome our own selfishness or weaknesses to prioritise our children’s needs. She feels shame about her failures as a parent – perhaps such shame that it prevents her from coming back to see Christopher after she’s left. Her writing to him clearly does not resolve her shame, she carries it with her. It takes great courage for her to face that, and the practical challenges of living with Christopher on her own when she returns. The beauty of the play is that it does not sentimentalise the realities of being a parent.

Labels
We talked in the podcast about the fact that Mark Haddon has repeatedly said that Christopher isn’t a representative of a category of people who share a defining label, such as “Asperger’s Syndrome” or “Autistic”. The National Autistic Society identifies several behavioural traits that it suggests could be collected under a definition of a condition:
• significant difficulties in social interaction and non-verbal communication
• restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviour
• have intense and highly focused interests
• trouble expressing feelings in a conventional or socially appropriate way

We recognise these things in Christopher, but as Mark has pointed out these traits are often manifest in our own behaviour. We are more comfortable in repeated patterns of behaviour, our usual routine. We become obsessive about a particular pursuit, hobby or sport. And I’m sure we are all challenged at times by social interaction. It was particularly instructive to learn from Mark that several of the “odd” concerns that Christopher has, such as
his not eating foods that have touched each other on a plate, or not using a toilet someone else has used, are observances that he borrowed from people he knows – people who have not been labelled in a particular way.

I don’t mean to be glib in these comparisons however. It is of course a matter of degree and comfort, and the telling differentials are when our mental concerns cause us intense recurring anxiety or impact our ability function in day-to-day life.

For Mark Haddon the key is that Christopher is an individual, as we all are:

good literature is always about peeling labels off. and treating real people with dignity is always about peeling the labels off. a diagnosis may lead to practical help. but genuinely understanding another human being involves talking and listening to them and finding out what makes them an individual, not what makes them part of a group.

If you want to find out who someone is, just ask them.   
Mark Haddon, asperger’s & autism, markhaddon.com, 16-07-2009

 

The Texts
If you are interested in buying the play text or other related books, we’d be delighted if you choose to purchase them by following the links below. We will earn a small commission on every book you purchase, which helps to keep the podcast going. You will also be supporting an independent bookseller. Thank you.
Suggest a play
We’re always open to suggestions about plays to talk about, so if you’d like us to discuss a favourite of yours, please email us at plays@theplaypodcast.com. Let us know why you think we should cover it, and if you know anyone who’d be excited and qualified to talk about it with us (even yourself if modesty permits!).
Plays suggested for discussion by our Guests and Listeners - which gets your vote?
  • Add your own suggestion
You might also be interested in …
040 – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, adapted by Simon Stephens

040 – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, adapted by Simon Stephens

Simon Stephens’s magical adaptation of Mark Haddon’s bestselling novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has been a smash hit around the world, loved for its innovative theatrical form and for its unique hero, 15-year old Christopher Boone, who teaches us to see the world differently. As the play embarks on a nationwide UK tour, I’m delighted to talk with Simon.

039 – Best of Enemies, by James Graham

039 – Best of Enemies, by James Graham

Best of Enemies re-enacts the explosive TV debates between American political pundits Gore Vidal and William F Buckley from 1968, and in so doing turns the lens on the corrosive nature of political discourse in our media today. Playwright James Graham joins us to talk about his fascinating new play.

038 – Macbeth, by William Shakespeare

038 – Macbeth, by William Shakespeare

Macbeth is a tragedy of love, ambition and betrayal, propelled by relentless energy and shocking violence, and infused by an air of the supernatural. Professor Emma Smith from Hertford College, Oxford, joins us to explore Shakespeare’s notorious ‘Scottish play’.

Recent Posts
The 2020 Theatre Diary – March

The 2020 Theatre Diary – March

Before the theatres went dark this month I was lucky enough to see Caryl Churchill’s A Number at the Bridge, and spend more than seven hours in thrall to Robert Lepage’s Seven Streams of the River Ota at the National. Plus, some thoughts on what we miss when there is no theatre.

The 2020 Theatre Diary – January

The 2020 Theatre Diary – January

The January roundup included both classic plays, such as The Duchess of Malfi, Uncle Vanya and Three Sisters, as well as recent musicals Dear Evan Hansen and Girl from the North Country

040 – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, adapted by Simon Stephens

040 – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, adapted by Simon Stephens

040 – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, adapted by Simon Stephens

Mark Haddon’s novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was a bestseller when it was published in 2003, partly because of its innovative form as a cross-over children’s and adult book, but mainly for the unique character of its hero and narrator, 15-year old Christopher Boone. Christopher sees the world differently from anyone else. He describes himself as a “mathematician with some behavioural difficulties”, difficulties that include having trouble interpreting the world or expressing his feelings in a conventional way, or being preoccupied by unusual details such as how many red cars he sees in a day, or avoiding the colours yellow and brown, and being anxious when confronted with a new environment and people. He does have an exceptional aptitude for Maths, as well as acute powers of observation and memory. When his neighbour’s dog is killed in curious circumstances, Christopher sets off to try to solve the crime. He makes for a formidable detective, but in pursuing his project he discovers much more than he set out to find, and in so doing we see the real practical and emotional challenges that life consists of for him, and for his parents and the teachers who care about him.

Playwright Simon Stephens’s magical theatrical adaptation of Christopher’s story was originally produced at the National Theatre in 2012, directed by Marianne Elliot, before transferring to London’s West End where it won seven Olivier Awards in 2013, including Best New Play. The play has been a smash hit around the world in the ten years since it was first produced, and as we record this episode it has just finished a successful run at the Troubador Wembley Park Theatre in London, and is embarking on a tour of 16 theatres around the UK, as well as a visit to Dublin, between January and May 2022.

I am delighted to be able to talk with Simon about this unique drama.

Note: there a occasions during our conversation where strong language is used. 

 

Simon Stephens

Simon Stevens is one of the most acclaimed and prolific playwrights of our time, whose work has been originated at theatres around in the globe:  in Germany, the USA, Japan, the Netherlands and of course here in the UK. He has authored more than three dozen plays including: Blindness, Heisenberg, Song from Far Away, Birdland, Sea Wall, Punk Rock,  Pornography, and Port to name but a few. He has also adapted classics such as A Doll’s House, The Cherry Orchard and The Threepenny Opera. A number of his plays have premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in London, where he was a tutor for their Young Writers’ Programme from 2001-2005, and where more recently he has presented five series of the Playwrights Podcast, talking with some of the world’s greatest playwrights about their work. His memoir A Working Diary recounting the background to his writing and work in 2014, the year Curious Incident opened on Broadway, is an essential read for anyone interested in the theatre. Simon is Professor of Script Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University.

The Texts
If you are interested in buying the play text or other related books, we’d be delighted if you choose to purchase them by following the links below. We will earn a small commission on every book you purchase, which helps to keep the podcast going. Through our selected partners Bookshop.org and Blackwell’s you will also be supporting independent bookshops. Thank you.
Photo © Marc Brenner
We have footnotes for this episode …

The Footnotes to our episode on The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time include observations on dramatic irony at work in the play – ironically it’s not as simple as we may think – as well as the uncommon and common challenges of parenting, and the peeling away of labels.

Suggest a play
We’re always open to suggestions about plays to talk about, so if you’d like us to discuss a favourite of yours, please email us at plays@theplaypodcast.com. Let us know why you think we should cover it, and if you know anyone who’d be excited and qualified to talk about it with us (even yourself if modesty permits!).
Plays suggested for discussion by our Guests and Listeners - which gets your vote?
  • Add your own suggestion
You might also be interested in …
040 – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, adapted by Simon Stephens

040 – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, adapted by Simon Stephens

Simon Stephens’s magical adaptation of Mark Haddon’s bestselling novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has been a smash hit around the world, loved for its innovative theatrical form and for its unique hero, 15-year old Christopher Boone, who teaches us to see the world differently. As the play embarks on a nationwide UK tour, I’m delighted to talk with Simon.

039 – Best of Enemies, by James Graham

039 – Best of Enemies, by James Graham

Best of Enemies re-enacts the explosive TV debates between American political pundits Gore Vidal and William F Buckley from 1968, and in so doing turns the lens on the corrosive nature of political discourse in our media today. Playwright James Graham joins us to talk about his fascinating new play.

038 – Macbeth, by William Shakespeare

038 – Macbeth, by William Shakespeare

Macbeth is a tragedy of love, ambition and betrayal, propelled by relentless energy and shocking violence, and infused by an air of the supernatural. Professor Emma Smith from Hertford College, Oxford, joins us to explore Shakespeare’s notorious ‘Scottish play’.

Recent Posts
The 2020 Theatre Diary – March

The 2020 Theatre Diary – March

Before the theatres went dark this month I was lucky enough to see Caryl Churchill’s A Number at the Bridge, and spend more than seven hours in thrall to Robert Lepage’s Seven Streams of the River Ota at the National. Plus, some thoughts on what we miss when there is no theatre.

The 2020 Theatre Diary – January

The 2020 Theatre Diary – January

The January roundup included both classic plays, such as The Duchess of Malfi, Uncle Vanya and Three Sisters, as well as recent musicals Dear Evan Hansen and Girl from the North Country

039 – Best of Enemies, by James Graham

039 – Best of Enemies, by James Graham

David Harewood as William F Buckley and Charles Edwards as Gore Vidal at the Young Vic Theatre Photograph by Wasi Daniju  

039 – Best of Enemies, by James Graham

It is 1968. America is deeply divided as racial unrest and protests against the Vietnam War erupt in the streets. Martin Luther King is assassinated in April, and in June, Robert Kennedy, the leading Democratic candidate for the presidency is murdered. In August the Republican and Democratic parties meet at their national conventions in Miami and Chicago, the latter disturbed by more clashes between armed police and protesters.

Against this backdrop the television network ABC enlist two controversial political pundits to engage in a series of freewheeling TV debates: the arch-conservative William F Buckley Jr and the liberal writer and provocateur, Gore Vidal.  Not only did their intellectual jousting provide meaty conflict, the personal antipathy between them sparked iconic TV fireworks. The series of ten short debates were a surprise television hit, attracting ten million viewers. As subsequent history has proved, the form and style of their venomous public battle was also a harbinger of the type of polarised personal discourse that now prevails in our current news and social media.

James Graham is a master at reflecting the anxieties of our time through the dramatisation of recent political history. In this case, reenactments of parts of the Vidal-Buckley debates form the centrepiece of his new play Best of Enemies, which is receiving its premiere at London’s Young Vic theatre as we record this episode in December 2021. The play is fascinating for so many reasons: the period in which it is set was one of fervid social and political upheaval around the world, the two protagonists are wonderfully compelling and complex characters themselves, and for the glimpse it provides into a particular moment when a new form of digital media came to dominate and even distort our public debate.

I am delighted to welcome James Graham to the podcast to talk about Best of Enemies.

For up to date information on Best of Enemies at the Young Vic Theatre in London click here.

James Graham
The playwright James Graham is one of our most prolific and popular dramatists, renowned for both his stage plays and TV dramatizations. He has carved out a niche in bringing contemporary political history to life, turning sometimes arcane events into lucid and compelling drama. His 2012 play This House at the National Theatre, for example, charted the backroom activities of parliamentary whips during the Labour government of the late 1970s and subsequently ran for two years in the West End and on tour. In fact at the same time as the revival of This House, he also had a second play running simultaneously in the West End, Labour of Love which surveys the recent history of the Labour party and which won an Olivier Award for best new comedy, as unlikely as that sounds.​

His recent stage successes have included Ink, about Rupert Murdoch’s takeover of the Sun newspaper, and Quiz, the story of the contestant who cheated to win the top prize on Who Wants to be a Millionaire. James adapted the Quiz stage play into a three-part TV series which captivated the country when it was aired during lockdown in April 2020, becoming a TV event watched live by more than five million households. James has continued to dramatize real-life political figures and events in his other TV work, Coalition re-imagined the formation of the Coalition government in the UK in 2010, and more recently Brexit – The Uncivil War in which his even-handed portrayal of the campaign guru Dominic Cummings, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, generated some contentious reaction. In fact James’s treatment of his at-times controversial material is distinguished by an open-minded impartiality, a balance which by definition is at stake in the debates and characters that we encounter in Best of Enemies.

The Texts
If you are interested in buying the play text or other related books, we’d be delighted if you choose to purchase them by following the links below. We will earn a small commission on every book you purchase, which helps to keep the podcast going. Through our selected partners Bookshop.org and Blackwell’s you will also be supporting independent bookshops. Thank you.
Suggest a play
We’re always open to suggestions about plays to talk about, so if you’d like us to discuss a favourite of yours, please email us at plays@theplaypodcast.com. Let us know why you think we should cover it, and if you know anyone who’d be excited and qualified to talk about it with us (even yourself if modesty permits!).
Plays suggested for discussion by our Guests and Listeners - which gets your vote?
  • Add your own suggestion
You might also be interested in …
040 – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, adapted by Simon Stephens

040 – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, adapted by Simon Stephens

Simon Stephens’s magical adaptation of Mark Haddon’s bestselling novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has been a smash hit around the world, loved for its innovative theatrical form and for its unique hero, 15-year old Christopher Boone, who teaches us to see the world differently. As the play embarks on a nationwide UK tour, I’m delighted to talk with Simon.

039 – Best of Enemies, by James Graham

039 – Best of Enemies, by James Graham

Best of Enemies re-enacts the explosive TV debates between American political pundits Gore Vidal and William F Buckley from 1968, and in so doing turns the lens on the corrosive nature of political discourse in our media today. Playwright James Graham joins us to talk about his fascinating new play.

038 – Macbeth, by William Shakespeare

038 – Macbeth, by William Shakespeare

Macbeth is a tragedy of love, ambition and betrayal, propelled by relentless energy and shocking violence, and infused by an air of the supernatural. Professor Emma Smith from Hertford College, Oxford, joins us to explore Shakespeare’s notorious ‘Scottish play’.

Recent Posts
The 2020 Theatre Diary – March

The 2020 Theatre Diary – March

Before the theatres went dark this month I was lucky enough to see Caryl Churchill’s A Number at the Bridge, and spend more than seven hours in thrall to Robert Lepage’s Seven Streams of the River Ota at the National. Plus, some thoughts on what we miss when there is no theatre.

The 2020 Theatre Diary – January

The 2020 Theatre Diary – January

The January roundup included both classic plays, such as The Duchess of Malfi, Uncle Vanya and Three Sisters, as well as recent musicals Dear Evan Hansen and Girl from the North Country

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Footnotes

Macbeth – Footnotes

Photo © Marc Brenner

Macbeth – Footnotes

The Footnotes to our episode on Macbeth include observations on the unnatural, propulsive pace of the play, and on the origins and interpretations of Shakespeare’s three ‘weird’ sisters.

“…’Twere well it were done quickly.”
The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge called Macbeth Shakespeare’s “most rapid” play, and as Emma and I discussed in the podcast, the action certainly flies along. There is a very deliberate sense that events are running out of control, for at each stage in the plot the Macbeths act precipitously. The idea of time running ahead of them is established from the start – the announcement that the King and his company will stay with them catches them by surprise – Macbeth barely has time to get home before they are due to arrive and they can’t but be hastily prepared to host the court. Duncan staying with them immediately after they’ve learned of the witches prophesy also presents them with an unexpected opportunity; one that they’ve not had time to consider and which they must act on that very night.

In their acting to kill Duncan they obviously disrupt the normal sequence and pace of succession. When Duncan bestows his favour on Macbeth in making him the Thane of Cawdor, he tells him “I have begun to plant thee, and will labour/To make thee full of growing”. This would be the natural time scale, where Macbeth’s progress would be nurtured over time

Macbeth’s need to act fast is not only a practical one, it is also psychological. When he steels himself to do the deed quickly, he expresses the reflexive instinct not to want to look too closely at the fact of what he is doing. Indeed this urge to avoid thinking about his actions only accelerates: “From this moment/The very firstlings of my heart shall be/The firstlings of my hand. And even now,/To crown my thoughts with acts, be it thought and done.” His evil thoughts do not bear examining or arresting: “Strange things I have in head, that will to hand/Which must be acted, ere they be scanned.” 

Macbeth recognises the moral failure of his actions from the start – he cannot look clearly at himself for this would be to take responsibility: “To know my deed, ’twere best not know myself.” His disavowals suggest that he is trapped in a form of self-created trance. In one of her lectures on the play, Emma cited a mock modern court case that put the Macbeths on trial for murder in which they pleaded ‘diminished responsibility’ in their defense. Was Macbeth in the grip of a temporary madness? Or perhaps even of the controlling power of the witches?

After the relentless frenzy of Macbeth’s actions, Shakespeare suggests at the end of the play that the natural pace of time will be restored, when Malcolm proclaims that he will act judiciously “in measure, time and place.”

The winds of time
James McArdle and Saoirse Ronan
Almeida Theatre 2021
Photo: Marc Brenner
The three weird sisters in Orson Welles’ film of Macbeth, 1948

 

Suspected witches kneeling before King James, Daemonologie (1597)

 

The witches at The Globe theatre, 2010
Photo: Tristram Kenton

 

The three sisters at the Almeida theatre, 2021
Photo: Marc Brenner

 

The weird sisters
In the cast list for Macbeth as it appears in the First Folio edition published in 1623 the witches are identified as ‘First Witch’, ‘Second Witch’ and ‘Third Witch’, and also collectively as “three weird sisters”. In the main source that Shakespeare used for the story of Macbeth, Holinshed’s Chronicles from 1577, Holinshed describes the “weird sisters” as “goddesses of destiny…endowed with knowledge of prophesy”. At that time the word ‘weird’ meant something different to our connotation of strange or bizarre; rather it denotes fate or destiny, a force that is inescapable.

Shakespeare’s sisters are certainly endowed with a gift for prophesy, which suggests that Macbeth’s future is predetermined. Their power does not necessarily equate to their directly controlling Macbeth’s behaviour, unlike the role of the three Fates in Ancient Greece and other mythologies, who controlled humans to ensure that balance and order in the world was maintained. The Fates generally do not act with any malicious or evil intent, but to maintain stability. So why do Shakespeare’s witches seem to mislead Macbeth into his fate? By urging him to be “bloody, bold and resolute” because “none of woman born shall harm Macbeth”, for example, the Sisters help lure him into the very acts and arrogance that will destroy him.

Shakespeare’s figures owe more perhaps to the popular image of witches in his time, and in particular to the belief championed by none other than the King himself that witches were instruments of the Devil who must be hunted out and punished. James VI’s three-volume work Daemonologie, first published in 1597 and reissued when he became King of England in 1603, sought to educate Christians on the existence and practices of witches, and also contained an extract from the famous North Berwick Witch Trials of 1590 over which James presided. The account of the trial enumerated the motives and methods used by the accused witches, including one woman who confessed to having attempted to assassinate the King by casting a spell to sink his ship. The North Berwick witches were tortured and executed.

Shakespeare’s witches employ the kind of ritual practices described in the account of the North Berwick trials, including direct quotes from the witches’ testimonies. Banquo recognises the potential malevolence of the witches when he warns Macbeth that they may be “instruments of darkness” that could mislead them. As Emma suggested in our conversation, however, it is possible that the metropolitan audience at the Globe theatre in London in 1606 would have viewed these figures with more skepticism. The Shakespearean critic A.C. Bradley went as far as to say that the sisters are simply “old women, poor and ragged, skinny and hideous, full of vulgar spite”. He does grant that they may be the recipients of some limited supernatural powers, in particular the gift of prescience. As we’ve suggested prescience can easily be equated with pre-determination, and the witches seem to be part of a larger world view in Shakespeare and this play that believes that our actions are mapped out by greater powers, whether for good or evil. Lady Macbeth seems to suggest that these kind of forces are at work propelling Macbeth’s advancement:  “fate and metaphysical aid doth seem/To have thee crowned withal”.

By Bradley’s reckoning, however, even with the power of prophesy the witches are “an influence, nothing more”. Their words provoke feelings and thoughts in Macbeth that are already there. This leads modern interpreters to portray the witches more as hallucinations or psychological projections, elaborating on Banquo’s doubt that the figures they have seen may not have been real: “Were such things here as we do speak about?/Or have we eaten on the insane root,/That takes the reason prisoner?”

The witches represent the latent lust for power within Macbeth. Rather than an external power, evil is internal in human beings – what Bradley labels “the evil slumbering in the hero’s soul” – which doesn’t require much provocation to unleash it. This interpretation clearly fits more easily into our modern understanding of man’s independent agency, compared with ideas of demons and devils. Nonetheless our enjoyment of the witches comes from an apprehension that that all of these possibilities for their role in the play are imaginable together. We will forever be exercised by questions of what powers there are beyond our own, what the sources of evil are, and the indefinable scope of our own imagination and impulses.

The Texts
If you are interested in buying the play text or other related books, we’d be delighted if you choose to purchase them by following the links below. We will earn a small commission on every book you purchase, which helps to keep the podcast going. You will also be supporting an independent bookseller. Thank you.
Suggest a play
We’re always open to suggestions about plays to talk about, so if you’d like us to discuss a favourite of yours, please email us at plays@theplaypodcast.com. Let us know why you think we should cover it, and if you know anyone who’d be excited and qualified to talk about it with us (even yourself if modesty permits!).
Plays suggested for discussion by our Guests and Listeners - which gets your vote?
  • Add your own suggestion
You might also be interested in …
040 – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, adapted by Simon Stephens

040 – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, adapted by Simon Stephens

Simon Stephens’s magical adaptation of Mark Haddon’s bestselling novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has been a smash hit around the world, loved for its innovative theatrical form and for its unique hero, 15-year old Christopher Boone, who teaches us to see the world differently. As the play embarks on a nationwide UK tour, I’m delighted to talk with Simon.

039 – Best of Enemies, by James Graham

039 – Best of Enemies, by James Graham

Best of Enemies re-enacts the explosive TV debates between American political pundits Gore Vidal and William F Buckley from 1968, and in so doing turns the lens on the corrosive nature of political discourse in our media today. Playwright James Graham joins us to talk about his fascinating new play.

038 – Macbeth, by William Shakespeare

038 – Macbeth, by William Shakespeare

Macbeth is a tragedy of love, ambition and betrayal, propelled by relentless energy and shocking violence, and infused by an air of the supernatural. Professor Emma Smith from Hertford College, Oxford, joins us to explore Shakespeare’s notorious ‘Scottish play’.

Recent Posts
The 2020 Theatre Diary – March

The 2020 Theatre Diary – March

Before the theatres went dark this month I was lucky enough to see Caryl Churchill’s A Number at the Bridge, and spend more than seven hours in thrall to Robert Lepage’s Seven Streams of the River Ota at the National. Plus, some thoughts on what we miss when there is no theatre.

The 2020 Theatre Diary – January

The 2020 Theatre Diary – January

The January roundup included both classic plays, such as The Duchess of Malfi, Uncle Vanya and Three Sisters, as well as recent musicals Dear Evan Hansen and Girl from the North Country

038 – Macbeth, by William Shakespeare

038 – Macbeth, by William Shakespeare

James McArdle and Saoirse Ronan at the Almeida Theatre
Photograph by Marc Brenner

 

038 – Macbeth, by William Shakespeare

Published 2nd December
William Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a tragedy of love, ambition and betrayal, full of relentless energy and shocking violence, infused by an air of the supernatural. With the ghostly witches, the plot of a thriller, and most of all the passionate partnership of the Macbeths and their doomed ambition, this has always been one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays. It has some of the most memorable scenes in all of theatre: the witches chanting over their cauldron, the ghost of murdered Banquo haunting Macbeth at the banquet, Lady Macbeth sleepwalking and wringing her bloodless hands, and finally the avenging army approaching camouflaged by the branches of Birnam Wood.

The ‘Scottish play’ was written in 1606, in some way as a compliment to the new monarch and sponsor of Shakespeare’s theatre company, James I or James VI of Scotland. The three “weird sisters” may owe their creation to the king’s well-known obsession with witchcraft, and the story and consequences of a regicide echo the real-life assassination attempt by Guy Fawkes less than a year before.

Since the 17th century the parts of the central couple have attracted the greatest actors of the age, and the story has inspired multiple films, including those by Orson Welles, Akira Kurosawa, Roman Polanski and more recently in 2015 by Justin Kurzel, starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard in the title roles. As we record this episode The Tragedy of Macbeth is also running on stage at the Almeida Theatre in London, directed by Yael Farber, with riveting central performances from James McArdle and Saoirse Ronan.​

I am joined in this episode by a familiar face, Professor Emma Smith, who teaches Shakespeare Studies at Hertford College, Oxford. Emma was my expert guest in episode 17 of the podcast where we talked about another murderous Jacobean play, John Webster’s wonderful potboiler The Duchess of Malfi.

 

Professor Emma Smith

Professor Emma Smith teaches early modern drama at Oxford, with a special focus on Shakespeare, on which she has published a number of books, including The Cambridge Guide to Shakespeare, Shakespeare’s First Folio – Four Centuries of an Iconic Book, 30 Great Myths about Shakespeare and most recently This Is Shakespeare published by Penguin last year, and which was a Sunday Times bestseller. Her lectures on Shakespeare are also available as podcasts, which you can find on the Oxford university podcasts pages. She is reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement and most pertinently perhaps for our purposes, she also happens to have written the Arden Student Guide: Macbeth, Language and Writing.

The Texts

If you are interested in buying the play text or other related books, we’d be delighted if you choose to purchase them by following the links below. We will earn a small commission on every book you purchase, which helps to keep the podcast going. Through our selected partners Bookshop.org and Blackwell’s you will also be supporting independent bookshops. Thank you.

Photo © Marc Brenner
We have footnotes for this episode …

The Footnotes to our episode on Macbeth include observations on the unnatural, propulsive pace of the play, and on the origins and interpretations of Shakespeare’s three ‘weird’ sisters.

Suggest a play
We’re always open to suggestions about plays to talk about, so if you’d like us to discuss a favourite of yours, please email us at plays@theplaypodcast.com. Let us know why you think we should cover it, and if you know anyone who’d be excited and qualified to talk about it with us (even yourself if modesty permits!).
Plays suggested for discussion by our Guests and Listeners - which gets your vote?
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You might also be interested in …
040 – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, adapted by Simon Stephens

040 – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, adapted by Simon Stephens

Simon Stephens’s magical adaptation of Mark Haddon’s bestselling novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has been a smash hit around the world, loved for its innovative theatrical form and for its unique hero, 15-year old Christopher Boone, who teaches us to see the world differently. As the play embarks on a nationwide UK tour, I’m delighted to talk with Simon.

039 – Best of Enemies, by James Graham

039 – Best of Enemies, by James Graham

Best of Enemies re-enacts the explosive TV debates between American political pundits Gore Vidal and William F Buckley from 1968, and in so doing turns the lens on the corrosive nature of political discourse in our media today. Playwright James Graham joins us to talk about his fascinating new play.

038 – Macbeth, by William Shakespeare

038 – Macbeth, by William Shakespeare

Macbeth is a tragedy of love, ambition and betrayal, propelled by relentless energy and shocking violence, and infused by an air of the supernatural. Professor Emma Smith from Hertford College, Oxford, joins us to explore Shakespeare’s notorious ‘Scottish play’.

Recent Posts
The 2020 Theatre Diary – March

The 2020 Theatre Diary – March

Before the theatres went dark this month I was lucky enough to see Caryl Churchill’s A Number at the Bridge, and spend more than seven hours in thrall to Robert Lepage’s Seven Streams of the River Ota at the National. Plus, some thoughts on what we miss when there is no theatre.

The 2020 Theatre Diary – January

The 2020 Theatre Diary – January

The January roundup included both classic plays, such as The Duchess of Malfi, Uncle Vanya and Three Sisters, as well as recent musicals Dear Evan Hansen and Girl from the North Country