Scots Macbeth gets world premiere

Apr 17 2012 | By More

Edinburgh Theatre Arts to stage premiere of MacBeth in Scots

Rehearsal shot from Edinburgh Theatre Arts new production of MacBeth in Scots

Rehearsal shot from Edinburgh Theatre Arts new production of MacBeth in Scots Photo credit: Marco Porrelli (

By Thom Dibdin

A translation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth into Scots is to receive its world premiere in a production from amateur company Edinburgh Theatre Arts in May.

Robin Lorimer’s translation of Macbeth into Scots was published in 1992 and received a partial performance by ETA three years later as a late-night companion piece to their main production of the original. The new production of the full Lorimer script will play St Ninian’s Hall on May 1-5, followed by a two-week run during the Fringe.

Liz Lochhead, the Scots Makar who has adapted several plays into Scots including Molière’s Tartuffe, said of the production: “From a simple reading of Robin Lorimer’s translation of MacBeth I know it to be muscular, passionate, dark, and very, very rich. Can’t wait to hear it.

“This text performed in full by this fine company will be a real theatrical event. It will certainly add an extra frisson to Shakespeare’s most headlong and thrilling psychological horror story to hear it in such Scots.”

Shakespeare wrote Macbeth sometime between 1603 and 1607. Although it is one of his best known tragedies, his stance on Scottish history was not in accordance with the facts: the real Macbeth was an admired and able monarch, rather than the despot Shakespeare created.

Rather, it is a politically expedient text which reflects the playwright’s close relationship with James VI. When he arrived in London as James 1 of England in 1603, one of his first acts was to become a patron of Shakespeare’s acting company: the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.

A dark, sinewy and fast-flowing production…

There are only two Scots translations of Macbeth – although it is the only one of Shakespeare’s plays to be completely  translated into Scots. Robin Lorimer is credited with the most complete of the two. The other: The Tragedie o Macbeth by Dr David Purves was first publicly read by the Edinburgh Playwrights’ Workshop in March 1987, but in comparison does not do as much justice to Scots as an able language to convey the original as Lorimer’s more scholarly approach.

Purves admitted his version had to be read “allowing for the constraints of the Scots language”. If this means that some of the subtleties are lost, there is a certain simplicity to the text which might make a reading of it more transparent.

Lorimer, who died in 1996, had a wide ranging interest in Scots language and was an editor for several Edinburgh publishing houses. In Scots language circles he is best remembered for editing and publishing his father William Laughton Lorimer’s translation of the New Testament into Scots.

In Macbeth, Lorimer’s use of archaic Scots forms to echo Shakespeare’s wide use of language allows him a rich interpretation which succeeds in echoing the original’s style and metre.

Writing in the preface to his script, Lorimer says: “In this work I have endeavoured to translate Shakespeare’s only Scottish play into a relatively modern Scots capable of sustaining the same levels of style, and achieving the same dramatic effects, as his English verse and prose.

“In grammar and syntax, I have chiefly, though not solely, been guided by the models which my father copiously provides in his New Testament in Scots, but the lexis which Shakespeare’s huge vocabulary has required me to adopt is somewhat archaic, and I have employed a good many words and expressions which are no longer current in contemporary urban or rural spoken Scots.”

According to Edinburgh Theatre Arts: “Our production is not a couthy ‘tartan and haggis’ affair. Lorimer’s Scots translation demands a dark, sinewy and fast-flowing production enhanced by simple, atmospheric lighting, sound and staging.”

Referring to the two-week run during the Fringe, the company add: “The Edinburgh Festival hosts companies from all over the globe performing Shakespeare’s plays in a wide variety of languages. It is time to bring the Scottish play home in Scots. The ongoing debate about Scottish independence and Scottish cultural identity makes it all the more relevant.”

The ETA production is part of the the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Open Stages initiative which is encouraging theatre companies throughout the UK to stage Shakespeare’s works in new and innovative ways. The RSC, in association with the National Theatre of Scotland, will select one of the participating Scottish companies to perform in the World Shakespeare Season at Stratford upon Avon this year.

MacBeth in Scots listings:

St Ninians Hall, Comely Bank Road, 1-3 May, 7.30pm; 5 May, 2.30pm, 7.30pm. Book tickets online.

Traquair Shakespeare Festival: Selected scenes 27th May 2012. Festival details

Edinburgh Fringe:
St Ninians Hall, Comely Bank Road, 6 – 18 August (not Suns): 2.30pm (Sat only), 7.30 p.m. Book tickets online


Edinburgh Theatre Arts Website

In conversation: Lorimer talks to Eleanor Howie about the Scots translation of the New Testament:

Text of the David Purves translation:

Purchase the Robin Lorimer text on Amazon: MacBeth In Scots


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