The Scottish Play is a lovely little drama about the fluid nature of stories and communal art. Sydney (Tina Benko) is an actress of some renown who craves a return to the smaller, more intimate projects of her youth. She returns to small-town New England, where she cut her teeth, and meets the awkward but charming Adam (Peter Mark Kendall), who hires her to star in his local production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Adam’s idea is to do a completely no-frills rendition of the classic play. Other directors, he says, try too hard to make the classic their own — to add new text or subtext, to shift characters to meet modern tastes, to abridge the Bard’s immortal classic. No frills this time. Just strong performers giving it their all. Sydney agrees, but it’s not long before they start to realize there’s a reason why so many artists have put their spin on it.
Macbeth, of course, is legendarily “cursed.” Folklore states that uttering the name in a theatre aloud can bring bad luck for a production. Incidents like, say, the theatre’s roof falling in — which happens during rehearsal. Or the lead actor losing his voice during a monologue, as is the case with Hugh (Geraint Wyn Davies), who plays the title role opposite Sydney. As the strange coincidences pile up, Sydney starts to wonder if her crew has bitten off more than it can chew. Nothing at the actual theatre is quite as strange, however, as the man Sydney meets in her garden. His name is Will (Will Brill). He speaks only in verse. And he claims to be the ghost of the real William Shakespeare
Writer-director Keith Boynton makes a solid choice to give the supernatural elements of his film a solid dose of whimsy, never leaning too far into whether this is all a fantasy. The important thing is that Will has a few new pages for Sydney, which challenges her and Adam’s devotion to the original text. Can one really rewrite the most influential playwright of all time? What if the Bard himself provides the rewrites?
There’s a lot to love about The Scottish Play, which deals with questions of creation and change with enough introspection to be meaningful and enough courage to still have fun with the entire premise of Shakespeare’s ghost showing up to help a local troupe build something for themselves. Benko, Kendall and Davies all turn in great performances as genuinely likable characters who never feel like the stereotypical selfish artists. Benko and Kendall in particular have a great chemistry that feels flirtatious without becoming the crux of the drama, which is their creative partnership. It’s deftly handled.
Perhaps this is an odd way to describe it, but there’s something about the film that feels downright cozy. There’s an inherent soulfulness to the script that is matched by Boynton’s filmmaking. The bar where the group hangs out, their dimly lit stage, Adam’s book-lined office. Everything feels warm, comforting. For lack of a better term, it’s a feel-good film that feels good to watch.
Classics like Macbeth remain endlessly iterative because the core story is strong and universal. It’s meant to be adapted, altered and brought new meaning by artists who truly interrogate the material. The Scottish Play is a funny, kind-hearted love letter to everyone who has taken the leap into bringing their own meaning to classic texts.