Arts: Debut - The Actor: Barrie Rutter The Role: Macbeth The Year: 1965

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The Independent Culture
WE PUT on Macbeth when I was in the upper sixth in December 1964 and then we went on tour with it to France and Germany around the Easter time of the following year.

I had got into acting because I had the biggest gob in the school - the drama teacher, Mr Siddle, suggested that I put it to good use. Obviously, there was no one going to play Macbeth but me.

It was an amazing tour, incredibly homespun. The school - Greatfield in Hull - set about raising funds and we made everything ourselves. Even the swords were forged in the metal workshop. Half the town seemed to get involved - it was a real entrepreneurial effort.

We got to our last stop, a school in Unna, near Dortmund, West Germany. For some reason, just before we went on, the guy playing Macduff said: "What if our swords should happen to break?" I said: "Come on, it's our last show, why would they break now?"

Well, the stage turned out to be brand new and slippery as hell. A warning went out for us all to keep our centre of gravity - have a low arse and wet knees, as they say. Then it came to the fight between Macduff and me and two things happened simultaneously - his sword broke and I slipped and went reeling back against the scenery.

The next thing I heard was a whisper in my ear saying: "Die and I'll drag you off stage," and so he stabbed me with his knife.

I did a big, dramatic death, very non-Macbeth-like, and with one finger hooked in this chain-mail we'd knitted out of twine, he dragged me off- stage. It looked so heroic that the whole audience went potty and we had to encore the fight. They thought we'd rigged it.

Although I had taken part in a few plays before that at school, and had a season at the National Youth Theatre that year, the tour and that incident often come back to me.

It confirmed in my mind that I felt at home on the stage - I just enjoyed being up there - and it taught me that you should never panic. If things go wrong, let the audience know. I have a great antagonism towards the man who walks on and says: "Due to unforeseen circumstances, the show will have to be cancelled." What unforeseen circumstances? Just let the audience see what you are working with; I'm a great believer in that. Even mishaps can be metamorphosed into magical events.

Barrie Rutter will be appearing in `The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus', West Yorkshire Playhouse, from 15 Oct