Thursday, 5 October 2017
Theatre review: Macbeth (Ninagawa Company)
In 2015 Ninagawa brought a Hamlet to the Barbican which I quite liked, but found essentially a Western-style production that just happened to be Japanese. By contrast Macbeth, though Yushi Odashima’s translation is (as far as I can tell from it being translated back to English on the surtitles) pretty faithful to Shakespeare, is Japanese in much more than just the cast’s nationality.
Instead of Western-influenced naturalism the acting style here is much more mannered and stylised, showing the influence of traditional Japanese theatre like Kabuki. The production is built around its spectacular visuals, creating a number of tableaux that could be paintings. It’s been nicknamed “the cherry-blossom Macbeth,” and Ninagawa turns that quintessentially Japanese image into a symbol of death, petals raining over battles and littering the stage throughout.
I did occasionally have a niggling feeling that this is a bit of a Disneyfied version of Japan that distils it into a series of postcards, but there’s no denying that Kappa Senoh’s set is spectacular, and Jusabaro Tsujimura’s costumes are a major part of the evening – the way she glides and sweeps around in Lady Macbeth’s flowing kimonos is what defines Tanaka’s performance. And there’s also some memorable ideas that could only have come out of a Japanese aesthetic – notably the three witches as geisha drag queens, and Banquo’s (Kazunaga Tsuji) ghost appearing as a haunted suit of armour. The system of bowing to show respect also tells a story – subtle differences in the way the court bows to Duncan (Tetsuro Sagawa) and then Macbeth when he becomes king, seem to show the difference between genuine respect and fear. And then there’s the downright eccentric – the show opens with two old women pulling back the shutters, who then spend the rest of the evening sitting either side of the stage having their dinner, and later praying and reacting in despair to some of the more violent moments.
The declamatory acting style is one that I find gets monotonous after a while, but it is capable of emotional moments that almost take you by surprise: Kaita Oishi gives one of the most moving renditions of Macduff finding out about his family’s deaths that I’ve seen. The repeated use of the same recorded piece of music is a problem – no matter how much money has clearly been lavished on a show, that will always give it a whiff of the amateurish to me. But it’s not enough to stop the show being most memorable for being atmospheric, inventive, and surprisingly fast-paced for something so steeped in ritual.
Macbeth by William Shakespeare in a version by Yushi Odashima is booking until the 8th of October at the Barbican Theatre (returns only.)
Running time: 3 hours 5 minutes including interval.
Photo credit: Sakura Hutari, Takahiro Watanabe, Seigo Kiyota.