THEATRE, CAPE TOWN: MACBETH, Theatre On The Bay, until June 1, 2019


Rating: *****+ (five star plus)

Playwright: William Shakespeare

Director: Fred Abrahamse

Design (set, costumes, puppets and masks): Fred Abrahamse and Marcel Meyer

Sound design: Charl-Johan Lingenfelder

Performers: Marcel Meyer, David Viviers, Jeremy Richard, Matthew Baldwin, Stephen Jubber and Tailyn Ramsamy

Producers: co-production between Pieter Toerien Productions, Abrahamse & Meyer Productions and the International Shakespeare Festival, Craiova, Romania

Ingenious design, superb performance, evocative imaging, mask, puppet-work and clowning creates an explosive and hyper inspired Macbeth.

I staggered out of the theatre; reeling. This is unlike any Macbeth that I have seen. I am referring to direct stagings – not adaptions – set in Africa or staged as a Live Art/performance happening. This is the Bard’s Macbeth – the Scottish play – the full-on story.

Abrahamse & Meyer Productions use an all-male company of six actors who in addition to playing principal roles take on other characters. Children are “played” by puppets. So, yes, there is some tweaking to make the slim line casting work but essentially it is the Bard’s Macbeth and whoa, this is a trip through a landscape studded by fear, treachery, murder, gore, power, betrayal and betrayal and betrayal -and loss.

Visually, it is stark: black on black costumes; shades of grey, punctuated by slashes and blobs of red (blood) and strident splashes of colour here and there. The centerpiece is a huge table – a seven metre long and two metre wide table. The table is the acting platform. It is a table – literally where the players sit in the first scene. Meyer: “The first image you see as you walk into the theatre is the full company onstage seated at the table, wearing black and silver lace masks – eating invisible food. This image is reminiscent of Renaissance paintings of ‘The Last Supper’ where the betrayal of Christ by Judas comes to the fore. Betrayal is a major theme in Macbeth – Macbeth, like Judas, betrays, Duncan [Christ] with devastating consequences.”

The table is arena, puppet theatre, battle ground. The players sit, jump, slither across the table; emerge through a trapdoor. It evokes banquet, feast, hunger, and orgy of power – powerful themes in the play.

The first half is 75 minutes and it is a measured build up as we watch characters as they emerge from a fugue of smoky fog. They are concealed and revealed as they blur and ghost against each other. It is a long first half but that is the Bard. The buildup is necessary. The direction of Fred Abrahamse is masterful in pulling the figures in and out of this murky underworld.

As we have seen increasingly with Abrahamse-Meyer productions, the set is functioning more and more as an installation, rather than as an old style set. The set is like another character and this is vividly imaged in this production.

In the 2nd half, the action reaches a feverish pitch- visually and through the noise of the performers and the sound-scape which becomes heightened.

I felt like it must have been like stumbling on Macbeth being performed in a club in Weimar Berlin (1918-1933): Black tin chairs shoved down on the table; clanking; hooded figures, macabre clowning, ghoulish puppet children; melancholic, haunting sound-scape- creaking, creepy. It evokes for me German Weimar cabaret – with a nod to Bob Fosse choreography with chairs (think of Cabaret and those chairs slamming in and out of space). I asked Meyer for his comment on this reading. He said: “You are spot on about Weimar staging. It was the Weimar republic that would eventually give rise to Adolf Hitler the greatest tyrant of all time.”

The 2nd half is 45 minutes and I wanted more. I thought – “oh no, is it finished already”. Jeremy Richard as the Porter/Clown gives a superlative performance throughout the production – with a fabulous Scottish accent. His role becomes core to the 2nd half. Beyond mesmerising. I don’t want to spoil how he activates this character as he moves around that table. It is a tour de force of clowning/cabaret.

The entire company is on top form. Meyer as Macbeth brilliantly teases out the intricacies of this flawed man as he holds us in his enthrall of his delusions and fears. Fear is what drives him and this play and we shudder along with him as he navigates his fears and ghosts. Loved the performance by David Viviers as Lady Macbeth- measured, stripped of the frippery we often associate with the scheming Lady who tends to veer into stereotype. This production is sans fluff and frills and stereotypical witches storing a cauldron and screeching spells.

The famous lines in Act 5, Scene 5 reverberates profoundly: Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage. And then is heard no more: it is a tale, Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing. As we watch the world in a mess – these lines sound out loud and clear.

Don’t miss this breathtaking production.

*School set-work alert: In South Africa, Macbeth is currently on the set-work list- Grade 12 English Additional Language and Grade 11 English Home Language learners.

*Macbeth is on at Theatre on the Bay, Cape Town: May 15 to June 1, 2019. Morning, matinee and evening performances. Booking at Computicket

Production pics on this post by Jesse Kramer Jesse Kramer Photography. Social pics by TheCapeRobyn