Monday, 17 August 2015

Theatre review: Macbeth (Tang Shu-wing Theatre Studio / Globe to Globe)

After Richard III, the second and final Globe to Globe of the 2015 season is also from China, although this time the language is Cantonese. The Tang Shu-wing Theatre Studio company from Hong Kong have created a stylised version of Macbeth, the story of a Scottish lord who learns from a supernatural source that he's destined to become king. Egged on by his wife, he decides to speed the process up by murdering King Duncan and, when the immediate heirs flee the country, is indeed crowned himself. Although it's one of the Shakespeare plys I'm most familiar with, I do like to be sitting where I can easily see the captions, because international adaptations don't always follow the plot that strictly. There might have been an exchange programme with Richard III (Macbeth's witches somehow ended up in that play earlier this summer) or an incident from a completely different Shakespeare play turning up in Dunsinane.

So I was braced for Lady Macbeth getting eaten by a bear or Duncan accidentally having sex with a donkey, but in the end the only real change is a framing device that sees a modern-day couple have a dream in which they travel back in time to ancient China and become the Macbeths. At they end they wake up troubled - possibly because they're wearing different clothes than when they fell asleep - until someone gives them an umbrella and they go away.

What's in between the framing is, apart from some cuts and reshuffling of scenes, pretty much the story Shakespeare tells. Director Tang Shu-wing has staged the play not quite in a traditional Chinese way, but one that's heavily influences by its dance-like performance, featuring stylised movement and poses that represent the events and emotions. Unfortunately I felt the production fell flat because, in a show so focused on the visuals, the action is pretty static.

Many scenes begin and end with lengthy processions in slow motion, but once the actors have found their places the action resolves itself into simply staged dialogue scenes, not the most inviting prospect in a foreign-language show. A lot of the translated Shakespeares and wildly varied international styles we've seen in Globe to Globe shows have been a revelation, but this one for me had little of interest to offer.

Macbeth by William Shakespeare* is booking in repertory until the 23rd of August at Shakespeare's Globe.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes including interval.

*Tang Shu-wing praises the translator into Cantonese in the programme notes, but not enough to actually credit him or her.

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