I am still around, it’s just that I have a conference this week and so with speakers to listen to and visiting delegates to welcome, there isn’t much in the way of reading or writing time. However, I did think I would just share this. I was browsing through some play scripts yesterday and came across a copy of David Greig’s play, Dunsinane. This is the ‘real’ story of what happened after Macbeth’s death, which in reality came much later than you might think because the historical king reigned for over a decade. The play was produced at Stratford last season and was a justified success. If you ever get the chance to see it, you should take it even if the opening scene doesn’t grab you in quite the way it did me.
The play begins with the English army coming north to help Malcolm take the throne.
In time the fleet found the softer waters
Of the river Forth and we landed in a place called Fife –
Which is a wild place compared to Kent –
And there we camped in woods near the abbey of Inchcolm.
And waited until at last he came to us – Siward
Our commander – and he told the sergeants it was time
To prepare us for the fight.
Sergeant: You –
Sergeant: Be a tree.
And suddenly I am back at school, dressed in a brief green tunic and along with thirty other eleven year olds I am being commanded to be a tree! Not, you understand, that our gym teacher was trying to get us to suggest the Birnam Wood truly could shift its ground to signal the end of Macbeth’s reign. To be honest, I can’t remember what the purpose behind her command was – if there ever really was one. Purpose doesn’t actually matter. It was the ringing tones of that instruction. Be a tree!
How was I supposed to be a tree? At least Greig’s Sergeant was handing out lopped off branches for his soldiers to wave about; there were no such refinements for us. Be a tree!
Am I supposed to grow from the ground?
Do I wave in a passing breeze?
I am probably about twelve stone at this point. It is going to take a passing hurricane to shift me. Be a tree!
It never ceases to amaze me how something as simple as three tiny words can transport someone through decades and bring back to life the insecurities of childhood. They were lucky I didn’t run screaming from the theatre. If I hadn’t been sitting in the middle of a row, I might have done just that. Even just reading the words yesterday brought on a cold sweat. Be a tree!