Saturday, October 24, 2009

Disappointing or good? That is the question.

"Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble. "[1]

These words are part of one of the most well known quotes of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and yet, they did not appear in the performance we went to see at the Royal Theatre of Namur on Tuesday 22nd September. Other surprising things such as the absence of period costumes, confusing settings and the gates of hell are also noteworthy. However there were not only drawbacks in the play. Indeed, there were some extremely interesting aspects worth writing about. Let’s first begin with the more negative points.

As soon as the play begun, we were struck by the fact that there were no actual costumes. Indeed, the male actors on stage were dressed in simple black clothes with a jacket (the king, and later Macbeth, were both wearing a long coat) and ankle boots. The actresses wore a black gown and high-heels. This is not a problem as such , but one would usually expect real costumes in a play like Macbeth. Indeed, the identification of the characters was not that easy and would probably have been easier had they worn period costumes. What is more, the stage was not at all furnished, except for wooden boxes through which light effects showed us where the act was taking place (at the entrance of Macbeth’s castle, next to the celebration in Macbeth’s castle, etc…). The only time when someone was really ‘dressed up’ and that there were more décors was at the gates of hell (which I honestly did not recognize at first). Suddenly, one of those wooden boxes was pushed to the middle of the stage uncovering a woman with red hair who was answering a phone and surrounded by all kinds of modern items (which was totally anachronistic and strange for the play). This box contained more décor and furniture than the whole play together. All of this made it a bit confusing and surprising for I expected a Shakespearian play to be played in period costume, with an entirely furnished stage and not the minimalistic approach we saw. All of the above-mentioned elements made for a disappointing play in my opinion.

Secondly, I have to admit that I was not convinced by the actors. Indeed, sometimes they overdid it and conversely. Take, for example, the moment Macbeth is being killed. In the previous scenes, it only took Macbeth one blow to kill his enemies (or allies since he becomes mad) whilst he was hit at least ten times before finally passing away. I still do not understand why the actors exaggerated,. What is more, I think the distribution of the roles was equally poor. Banquo was taller than Macbeth who is supposed to be “larger than life”. Despite these drawbacks, here follow some of the positive points.

Firstly, the sound and light effects were particularly well done such as when the ghost of Banquo appears to Macbeth. The actor, wearing black in a dark background (his body was thus invisible), appeared on stage with only his face lit up, which was extremely impressive,.. Another scene is that of the celebration in Macbeth’s castle. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth were speaking to each other and light came through the boxes on the left (spectator’s point of view) and the sound of people feasting. This ‘mise en scène’ was beautifully carried out. Another plus for the play were the sound effects. When, at the beginning of the play, the three witches (who were only two) spoke, the male actors whispered, which gave it a very gothic allure. Another sound effect which I very much appreciated (being male) was the sound of the swords coming out of their sheath. That sound was very realistic and gave the impression that the characters had invisible swords (which they, actually, did not have).

Secondly, even though Macbeth’s performance was unconvincing, Lady Macbeth’s, on the opposite, was. She played her part stunningly well, really showing who was the brain in all this diabolical conspiracy. She was obviously one of the best, if not the best, actors on stage. The man who played the ‘blind’ Duncan (was he really blind in Shakespeare’s version? I think not. Or was it only to show the audience that he didn’t know what his ‘friends’ were doing behind his back?) also did a fine job. This is also worth noting.

All in all, I can say that I more or less enjoyed the play even though I did not like some things that were part of it. I really loved the sound and visual effects because they gave us the decors that were actually missing. However, there were some things I did not like, such as the lack of costumes and clear decors (although the visual and sound effects made up for this), the anachronistic red-haired woman at the gates of hell and the of some actors (Macbeth, for example). All of this leaves me undecided whether this play was worthwhile or not, but the least we can say is that it will leave nobody indifferent.

[1] Macbeth. (Act IV, Scene I).

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