Macbeth, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Too much toil and trouble
Thursday 29 August 2002
Macbeth isn't the only one trying to be bloody, bold and resolute. Ro Theatre from Rotterdam has fairly savaged Shakespeare's tragedy. At the Edinburgh Festival for just three performances, the Scottish play is presented in a mesmeric- sounding Dutch translation, liberally adapted and radically cut. Thank goodness for the English, if not always Shakespearian, surtitling. What emerges on stage is not so much the Dutch play as the double-Dutch play. The director Alize Zandwijk has a reputation for her youth-theatre productions, which appears to have interestingly, but, ultimately, adversely influenced her interpretation of Macbeth.
A makeshift assortment of wooden chairs, a couple of tables, a bowl of oranges, a broom, and utilitarian showers give few clues as to where we are. A school hall perhaps? A refugee centre? The women's costumes look as if they've been run up from old blue curtains, the men sport bits of holey uniform. Crowns are white paper cut-outs, and black is the new red. Thick black body paint symbolises not just "the black darkness descending on the human soul" but also blood, smeared on hands, throats and, finally, as Macbeth slithers into depraved madness, the hero's face.
There are nearly as many silences as there are words, longueurs that test the actors' courage and the audience's patience, some moments fascinatingly gripping, others simply long-drawn-out agony. A few scenes are cut altogether, others flashed through ('twere well it were done quickly?) and some, like the banquet at which Banquo's grinning ghost haunts the tyrant king, played to the hilt.
The caretaker, Guus Dam, takes a pivotal role as Seyton, Porter, scene-shifter and foil, while Lady Macbeth, played by Jacqueline Blom, is a restless, slightly fey woman toying with the idea of power. Her sleep-walking scene is over in the twinkling of an eye.
Steven Van Watermeulen develops his characterisation of Macbeth from a presumably deliberately lacklustre start to a level of such ferocity that you almost expect foam to tumble from his blackened lips as the backdrop unexpectedly lifts to reveal air, light and a Birnam wood made up of human branches, fronted by a small group of musicians.
In pointing up the childlessness of the Macbeths, Zandwijk becomes fixated on children – the "struggle between creation and destruction", as she describes her concept. The partying is puerile in its prankishness, the parrying accom- panied by child-like war cries. Omnipresent, silent onlookers, the three witches – a teenager (Esther Scheldwacht) who does all the talking with two small children in tow – cook up their poisonous brew on a camp stove. Abused? Orphaned? Whatever, inscrutable.
The halting style and tempo of the play's opening lines hints at some previous trauma, while the initial distancing of all the characters from their lines suggests novice actors in search of a meaning. Sacred music by Bach adds another unfathomable dimension to an eerie electronic score in a production that I found curiously compelling though confused in its message.
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