British Museum blog

The Weird Sisters

Felix Mortimer, RIFT Theatre Company

On the evening of Friday 10 October, we brought our interpretation of the Weird Sisters from Macbeth to Room 90 in response to the exhibition Witches and Wicked Bodies displayed there. We had developed the witch characters over a year of performance in different spaces.

Louise Torres-Ryan and Roseanne Lynch play two of the Weird Sisters for RIFT at the British Museum. Photo © Benedict Johnson

Louise Torres-Ryan and Roseanne Lynch play two of the Weird Sisters for RIFT at the British Museum. Photo © Benedict Johnson

The witches are the biggest challenge for the director of Macbeth. These undefinable women who are associated and intertwined with the story but strangely absent, on the periphery, commenting and disrupting. Macbeth’s witches can be harpies, ravens or rapping nurses. The most embarrassing or intriguing of Shakespeare’s characters.

Our 2014 production, set within Erno Goldfinger’s iconic Balfron Tower, opened with the sound of the witches and their discovery in an underground carpark. From the shadows, their faces illuminated only by firelight. Our main references were people cast outside of society, Albanian sworn-virgins and drug addicts.

We wanted to make the witches more three-dimensional, let the audience in on a side of them which might not usually be told. We commissioned Thomas McMullan to write a twenty-minute scene exploring the witches’ background.

Thomas explains his process here:

I approached the idea of the ‘witch’ from the perspective of a slur; the power for the word to dehumanise. The sister is made abject and, in turn, drifting from the forest to the city, she becomes detached from the world around her. She is greeted by the perpetrators of that violent dehumanisation with a mixture of fear and abuse, eventually choosing to inhabit the former over the latter.

Thomas’ work lent the witches a depth and humanity which we felt was needed. Only half of the audience witnessed this scene and those that did developed a markedly different sympathy in the later apparitions scene.

Louise Torres-Ryan, Roseanne Lynch, Jason Imlach and Zoe Williams for RIFT at the British Museum. Photo © Benedict Johnson

Louise Torres-Ryan, Roseanne Lynch, Jason Imlach and Zoe Williams for RIFT at the British Museum. Photo © Benedict Johnson

Our witches (Dominique, Louise and Roseanne) developed an almost familial bond during the production, experimenting with different dynamics and constantly refining the arc of the sisters throughout the piece.

Dominique explains their process here:

We interpreted The Weird Sisters as mortal women who had been subject to extraordinary circumstances and become damaged and shaped by these experiences. Thom’s writing allowed us to investigate what they why they felt distanced from the rest of society, especially in opposition to men.

We explored ideas around of being outcast, living on the fringes and helping each other survive. We worked extremely closely together, challenging and critiquing each other, and developed a bond between us which was really unique – it continues to feel special to have that connection. It was interesting to see how others reacted to this – I could start to see how some men find close bonds between women threatening.

It is still horrifying to think about how that same fear could have become the seed for the demonisation and persecution of women which bred the idea of witches in the first place

Working on the event to accompany the exhibition Witches and wicked bodies has allowed us to continue the conversation about the Weird Sisters which started with some experiments in October 2013 and continues today.


Witches and wicked bodies is in Room 90, to 11 January 2015. Admission free.

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