Actors are notoriously superstitious especially about Shakespeare’s play Macbeth. Katie’s friend Paul has a part in a youth production that is going to the Edinburgh Festival. When one of the girls who is playing a witch breaks her leg, he persuades Katie to try her hand at acting.
Bertie would like to thank Trevor Broska for writing in with his suggestion about Fairy Gold which comes up in the story. He also liked the idea of setting a Katie story in Scotland.
Story by Bertie.
Read by Natasha.
Pictures from Edinburgh Fringe
If there is one thing you can say about Katie’s friend Paul, it is that he has quite a thick skin.
“He’s got a nerve…” said Isis when his name came up. “He’s a two-timing, no he’s a triple-timing cheat.”
You see Paul, as you may have heard in the story, Katie and the Magic Chocolate, had invited three girls out in one week. The girls found out, and all turned up on the same evening, pouring shame on the poor boy’s head.
“But it would be such fun!” said Katie, as they walked past the cafe where the fateful meeting had taken place. It was called the Waffle Palace, and somehow, it had lost some of its glamour in the girls’ eyes.
“Well it would,” admitted, Isis.
“My mum says Paul’s got gumption. He’s always doing something interesting, even if he is a bit of an …. well…”
Katie couldn’t finish the sentence, so Isis did it for her.
“An idiot,” she said.
Anyway, this is what had happened. A local youth drama club was putting on Shakespeare’s Macbeth at the Edinburgh Festival – which is a huge arts festival that goes on in the capital city of Scotland every year. Paul had auditioned and had won the part of Banquo’s ghost. Unfortunately, the production had a run of bad luck, and one of the girls who was playing a witch fell off her bicycle and broke her leg. They needed somebody to step in quickly, and naturally Paul suggested Katie because she really was a witch. “You wouldn’t even have to act!” he said. Katie did an audition, and the director loved her performance and offered her the part.
It would be such an adventure. A whole week away with a group of arty, interesting kids, most of them older than her. It was too good an offer to turn down. Katie asked her mum, and she agreed to let her go.
In the meantime, Katie had to give up her pony riding lessons so that she could go to rehearsals on Saturday mornings. This was the first time she had been in a play. She had to learn to be far more witchy than a witch in real life ever is. And at the same time, she had to be very careful not to let her magic powers work when she chanted the witch’s spell:
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork and blindworm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing.
For charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
Shakespeare had done his research and the spells in Macbeth are quite authentic. One slip, and Katie could have let all sorts of dark powers loose – she had to concentrate ever so hard not to let that happen.
But the producer said that she was amazing – and that the whole atmosphere of the production had changed since she came on board.
“I hesitate to say this,” he admitted, “but perhaps in some ways it was a good stroke of luck that Betsy fell off her bicycle.”
“Poor Betsy,” said Katie. “My mum told me that Macbeth has a history of bad luck.”
As soon as she spoke, the girl who was playing Lady Macbeth flared her nostrils and said:
“Hey don’t say that word.”
“Yes,” said the producer gravely. “We only ever call it The Scottish Play – we never give it its proper title. It’s meant to bring bad luck if you do.”
“Oh I see,” said Katie. “Sorry about that.”
“Come with me,” said Lady Macbeth, whose real name was Amanda, and was a tall, slender pale-faced beauty with lots of curly hair. She led Katie out of the theatre and onto the pavement outside.
“Now turn around three times,” she said.
And Katie turned around three times, trying not to smile.
“Now spit on the ground.”
And Katie spat.
“Now say – Angels and ministers of grace defend us.”
And Katie repeated the line.
“That’s alright now,” said Amanda. “I feel bad, because I didn’t make Betsy do that after she mentioned the dreaded word. She had her accident on the way home.”
“Well thanks,” said Katie who secretly felt it had all been a waste of time. There’s nothing magical about spitting on the floor at all. And in any case, her mother had done some white magic to make sure that the curse of Macbeth would not apply to their production – otherwise she would not have let Katie take part.
Katie and Amanda went back into the theatre, and the director explained that Macbeth has a long history of bad luck, which is why actors are so superstitious about it. For instance, actors have really stabbed each other with swords in the fight scenes. The famous actor Charlton Heston was burnt because his tights got soaked in kerosene. Fires, accidents and robberies seem to be quite common during productions of Macbeth. Katie understood that this was because the witch’s spell had all sorts of powerful words in it… but she also knew that she could make sure that they did not work any harm.
In the first week of August, the drama group took the famous express train called the Flying Scotsman up to Edinburgh. They all brought sleeping bags, because the cast would be sleeping on the floor of a room in a guest house. It was in an old granite town house that was so grand, that on the inside it seemed almost like a castle. It had a huge flight of stone steps and a massive fireplace in the dining room.
The weather was fine and Katie loved walking around the cobbled lanes in the centre of the city. Everywhere was packed with tourists and festival goers. All sorts of musicians were playing and people were doing funny things like tottering around on stilts or dressing up in space costumes. Every few steps an actor would hand you a flyer advertising a production in the festival fringe.
The Fringe is a side festival of all sorts of little shows that take place in rooms, bars and clubs around the city.
Katie and Paul went to see a comedy show that had some quite grown-up jokes, and to tell you the truth, weren’t that funny. And then they went to see a play by the writer Tom Stoppard that was hillarious. It was a day before their own production began, and they also had to hand out flyers.
The problem was – they weren’t supposed to say the name of the play – so they had to tell people things like: “We’re putting on some Shakespeare, come and see – 5pm tomorrow.”
Amanda came with them, and was particularly strict about not letting them say the dreaded word. She was taking the whole thing very seriously indeed. For the past week she had been going round with red spots of paint on her hand so that she could “live her part.” As you may know, Lady Macbeth imagines she has blood on her hands and is always trying to wash it off saying:
“Out damned spot, out I say!”
As I have said, there were crowds everywhere, but when Katie, Paul and Amanda went out to market the play, they turned a corner, and the normally busy street was empty. Katie felt an eery chill.
“Not down here,” she said. “I don’t’ like it.”
“Alright,” said Paul. “There’s not much point. There’s no one here.”
But Amanda was standing, pointing at the ground. Her long finger was directed towards something that was glistening.
“It’s gold,” she said.
“Don’t touch it,” said Katie urgently, “It won’t do you any good.”
Amanda walked towards the coin.
“I know it’s real gold,” said said. “I’m sure it is.”
Katie grabbed hold of her arm.
“Leave it I tell you.”
But Amanda stooped down and picked up the coin. She clasped it in her hand. She looked almost possessed by it. Katie was dismayed.
“What’s wrong?” asked Paul. “Is it a fake?”
“No,” Katie sighed. “It’s real alright, but it’s fairy gold. It’s terrible bad luck to pick it up. Amanda – you must put it back down and leave it. Believe me, please.”
“Yes, Amanda, do listen to her,” said Paul. “Katie really does know about magic.
But Amanda looked at Paul and said, quite simply:
“Are you crazy or what?” and she dropped the coin into her purse.
Katie did not feel like handing out flyers anymore. “There’s no point now,” she said, “it’s all going to go wrong anyway.”
“If you say terrible things like that,” said Amanda, “then you really will bring bad luck. We are all trying to get into a positive frame of mind. Keep your gloomy thoughts to yourself thank you very much.”
And so Katie asked Paul if he would walk back to the guest house with her. When they arrived, the producer had bad news:
“I’ve just had a call,” he said. “There’s been a flood in the Fiona Rooms. Somebody left the bath running upstairs and the ceiling has fallen in. The owners won’t let us continue there. They’ve moved us to another place a couple of streets away, but we’ll have to put the play on an hour earlier, as it’s booked later on.”
The Fiona Rooms had been the venue for their play. The new place was fine enough, except that all their advertising had been for a different address. Most people who wanted to see them would turn up at the wrong place, at the wrong time.
And so it happened, that on the opening evening of their production, there were only three people in the audience, and one of them was Amanda’s boyfriend.
“Oh well, let’s call it the dress rehearsal,” said the producer, and they struggled through an hour and a half of acting to an almost empty room. Amanda’s boyfriend clapped very loudly, but it was rather a lonely sort of clapping noise, and hardly the acclaim they had been hoping for.
As they went off stage, Amanda took Katie on one side and said:
“This is all your fault. It’s your gloomy attitude that brought this about. Don’t let me hear you making pessimistic predictions again, alright?”
“No it’s not my fault at all,” said Katie. “It’s yours because you didn’t listen to me when I told you not to pick up the fairy gold. You must put it back before anything worse happens.”
“I’m sixteen. I don’t believe in fairies,” said Amanda. And then she turned to her boyfriend who had just joined them and said:
“Listen Pete. Never work with children, right?”
All the next day, the cast was out on the street in full force handing out flyers. All their efforts managed to fill at least half the seats in the hall. But they needn’t have bothered, because there was a power cut and the lights went out just as katie was saying:
“Fair is foul, and foul is fair:
Hover through the fog and filthy air.”
It looked like the lights had gone out for effect, but in fact they did not come up again. Eventually everyone had to grope their way out of the theatre.
The director said: “I never thought I would really believe this, but I think we’ve been hit by the curse.”
‘Somebody must have used the dreaded word,” said Amanda.
“Well perhaps they did,” said the director. “Whoever you were that said it, go outside and spit on the pavement please,” but nobody did.
That night, Katie could not sleep. She had a feeling that something truly terrible was going to happen the next day. It could be anything. Somebody might die. It’s terrible when you can foresee something, and there is nothing you can do to stop it.
Or was there nothing? “I should take the gold coin and put it back myself,” said Katie, “or the bad luck will run and run. It will be bad for Amanda. It might be terrible for her in fact. But if she catches me, I won’t get any thanks. She’ll say I’m steeling. She might call the police. Oh what should I do?” said Katie, as if she was speaking her own Shakespearian internal monologue.
At about 2.30am, Paul tapped her on the shoulder. In the shadowing darkness, she could see that he was pointing to the door. She wriggled out of her sleeping bag and followed him.
“Look at this,” he said, showing her his hand with his fingers clenched. He opened them and revealed the gold coin.”
“Oh, well done,” said Katie.
“Phew,” said Paul. “I’m glad you agree I did the right thing. Some people might say I stole it.”
“Not me,” said Katie. “It belongs to the fairies.”
“I woke you up, because I wanted to ask if there is a proper way to give it back?”
“Well the best thing would be if Amanda gave it back herself,” said Katie.
“That’s unlikely,” said Paul.
“So I had better do it,” went on Katie, “because they will know that a magical person has helped them and they will want to put things right.”
And so Katie slipped back into the room to get her jeans which she pulled on over her pyjamas. She and Paul walked through the moonlit streets to the spot where Amanda had found the coin.
“What are you going to do?” asked Paul.
“I’m going to drop it down that drain,” replied Katie. “It’s the entrance to the fairies’ underground Palace.”
And as soon as she had dropped the coin, she felt a huge sense of relief.
“It’s going to be ok,” she said to Paul. “In fact, I think that the fairies are going to help us.”
In the morning, even Amanda seemed to be in a light mood. When the director said:
“Let’s see what this day has in store for us.” Amanda replied:
“We’ll all do our best, and with the right spirit, it will all be fine.”
“Yes it will,” said Paul with certainty in his voice.
And that evening, they played to a packed house. The witch scenes were full of spooky mystery and suspense, but without any mishaps. Amanda played Lady Macbeth like she was a seasoned actress. The fight scenes were spectacular, and nobody got hurt. The audience loved it. And the judge from “The best young production” competition said he was putting them forward for a nomination.
All in all, they could not really have had better luck.
And that was the story of Katie and the Curse of Macbeth.