Dear Paul Higgins

Playing Macbeth in Manchester, you told an unruly audience of schoolchildren to "Shut the f*** up". A fellow actor sympathises
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The Independent Online
Why are they making this fuss? If you're reported right, you gave the kids a perfect line of blank verse complete with what the trade calls a feminine ending:

"If you don't stop, I'll rip your bloody heads off."

- just like

"To be or not to be, that is the question."

There's something about this play, though. When I played it we toured to Southampton and the kids threw Jelly Babies at us - and a few (unkindest cut of all) - penny coins. That time Derek Smith was the Old Man getting the benefit and he went:

"A falcon, towering in her pride of place STOP THAT

Was by a mousing owl hawk'd at and kill'd"

- he didn't even draw breath, and that was the end of them.

We took the same show to Chicago and played a morning matinee to South Side ghetto kids - a very dangerous and unruly house who drowned the first four scenes and looked set to become Birnam Wood themselves any minute. I'd have yelled at them, but I wouldn't have been heard. You could no more control these kids than the ocean tide, and the wings were filling up with security guards with itching fingers. Then Jenny Quayle came on as Lady Macbeth and started:

"Come, you spirits

That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here

And fill me from the crown to the toe top full

Of direst cruelty..."

It's a dangerous speech - there's the bit about "Come to my woman's breasts" coming up in a minute but they went silent as the grave. They stayed silent while Lady Macbeth worked her husband up, silent when I saw a dagger in the air, silent through the murder (we used an awful lot of blood) and they were silent as the witches conjured up the apparitions. And they raised the roof when Macbeth died.

Hallucination, violence, possession and hard hearts - they got it all at home but without the language. That's what intoxicated them that day - those words, again.

At least you weren't being got at by one of our own. When Charles Macready played in Hamlet in New York he started waving a handkerchief - and he was hissed from the audience by the American actor Edwin Forrest, whereupon the show stopped and they argued about it. The hostility between the two of them led to a riot in Astor Place in 1849 and 20-odd people were killed. But then English actors are not always welcome on Broadway.

Anyway you got them in the end. All the same, I know exactly how you feel. It's tough enough to play Macbeth twice a day as it is without all this. Oh, and never mind about the F word: Macbeth would have approved, and as all the best bits were made up by the actors, you'll be in the text books soon. What can you do for Hamlet?

MICHAEL PENNINGTON

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