Thursday, August 23, 2007

Motorcycle Macbeth

Those of us here in Scotland for Ms Keller's drama trip saw the most amazing play last night. It's official title was Macbeth: Who was that bloodied man? but I'm calling it the motorcycle Macbeth. It was performed by a Polish company who stripped the play almost completely of dialogue, condensed it to 60 minutes, and added some remarkably dramatic visual effects to bring out the central themes of the play.

For one thing, the soldiers at the beginning of the play all rode real motorcycles and fired machine guns and pistols as they simulated the opening battle scene. For another, some of the soldiers, and often the witches, were ten to twelve feet tall and walked on stilts around the stage. Not only were these stilt creatures dramatic in their movements, they also added to the eerie, supernatural aura which is so much a part of the play. Third, the play was done outdoors in the central quad of the Old College, with the audience standing. Finally there was fire and loud music used frequently for dramatic effect throughout the performance.

To condense the script, everything but the main plot was sacrificed. No Macduff, no Malcolm or Donalbain, very little dialogue (and what there was was spoken in a clear but definitely Polish-accented English). Just the battle scene, the murder of Duncan, the coronation, the murder of Banquo, the tormented consciences of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, and their deaths. For the final battle scene, six soldiers on stilts came on stage carrying torches and twelve-foot-tall wooden posts. They moved steadily toward the castle--a metal construction in the back of the staging area--carrying these posts, giving the visual effect of Birnam Wood advancing on High Dunsinane. When the reached the castle, they set it afire--that's why it had to be made of metal, so that only the parts they wanted to burn would do so--and looking through a metal screen into the castle, the audience could see "Macbeth" catch fire and burn to death as the play ended.

What the stilts and fire and lack of dialogue and stripping of all the subplot elements did, more than anything, I thought, was to create mood. The entire performance, especially the use of the three witches, whose faces were covered with white veils throughout, gave off a sinister aura of evil walking the face of the earth.

It was one of the most unusual and imaginative and effective stagings of Shakespeare I have ever seen. We all decided that you'd pretty much have to know the original play in order for some parts of it to make sense, but if you did, it was certainly a gripping theatrical experience.

Three cheers for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival!! (459)