MACBETH. Directed by Fred Abrahamse. With Marcel Meyer, Stephen Jubber, Matthew Baldwin, Jeremy Richard, David Viviers and Tailyn Ramsamy. Costume design: Fred Abrahamse and Marcel Meyer. Soundscape: Charl-Johan Lingenfelder. Photographs: Jesse Kramer. Theatre on the Bay.
THERESA SMITH reviews
The accursed Scottish play returns to the boards in Cape Town to scare and mesmerise yet another generation of locals.
The tragedy starts before you even enter the theatre, with the six actors firmly ensconced at a large table that dominates the stage, calmly eating a meal as the audience trickles in.
The serenity doesn’t last once the work really begins, with a sense of dread and fear threading through the play, heightened to feverish pitch by Charl-Johan Lingenfelder’s scary soundscape.
The staging is simple in idea, yet complex in execution. All action takes place in the fore and mid ground of the stage, with the background lost to darkness – so much of this play takes place at night. The smoke machines work overtime to creepy effect, special effects are minimal but effective, and every prop is a delicious prompt to the audience’s imagination to work overtime.
Topical dimension to a centuries-old play
The six male actors tackle 22 various roles and the 2019 Naledi Theatre Award-winning costumes create an androgynous feel to many of the characters. This is reinforced in dialogue (like when Banquo first meets the weird witches and wonders what they are) and by the idea that some of the lead characters have become archetypes in common parlance and their dialogue gets used by all and sundry without even realising it. This adds yet another topical dimension to a centuries-old play which readily lends itself to modern interpretation.
The tale of political machination, rebellion and self-fulfilling prophecy is familiar to modern audiences, who have seen it cribbed by so many TV, film and stage productions.
A trio of witches prophesy that Macbeth (Meyer) will become king so he and his wife (Viviers) help matters along by murdering King Duncan (Jubber). But the enormity of their actions cannot be escaped, either on a psychological level or in the reality of the king’s sons and other members of the ruling class deciding to get rid of Macbeth the tyrant.
Sheer poetry of the language
Another factor that has kept this, the shortest of Shakespeare’s tragedies, constantly on the boards over the years is the literal, sheer poetry of the dialogue – audience members could be seen to mouth along various passages with relish.
Jeremy Richards adds an unexpected humourous note in his interpretation of the Porter which is played up to a greater degree than usual. Tailyn Ramsamy’s clear diction helps to create a noble Banquo while David Viviers is well cast as Lady Macbeth, creating a power hungry character with substance.
Meyer uses a very modern turn of phrase – the words he chooses to stress in any given line are decidedly different to the rest of the cast who hark back to a more traditional pattern of stress and emphasis. It is an odd choice to have two different styles in this play, which makes for a performance that stands out in the wrong way. This creates the one unmusical note in an otherwise amazing tone poem about the damaging effect of unbridled political ambition for the sake of power.
Where and when: Theatre on the Bay, Camps Bay from 15 May to 1 June 2019
Previous production: Hamlet