Review: Macbeth, Third World Bunfight – recording of live performance in Italy, Teatro Politeama, the Napoli Teatro Festival in June 2016.

Macbeth direct booking link:

Tickets: R35

Brett Bailey’s astounding opera, Macbeth is on at the virtual edition of The National Arts Festival, South Africa- until July 31, 2020. Yeah, the Curated Programme ends tomorrow – July 31. There has been much to watch and somehow I missed watching this opera which blew me away, in 2014 at Artscape, Cape Town. I hope that this recording pops up on another digital stage. The live performance has transitioned very well in this recording – with excellent editing, camera work and surtitles. Nothing beats live, though. I was there in 2014 and gasped at what was before us on stage. Here is my review, first published in The Weekend Argus.

Review – 204 season- Artscape- Cape Town

In the lead up to 2014, there’s been much chit chat by theatre makers and musicians about reflecting and engaging with our twenty years of democracy and gazing at ourselves as a nation and as a continent.  We are only in the 5th month of the year but many projects seem to have fizzled out. Funding isn’t easy to secure and what sounds good on paper may become lost in translation on stage and end up coming across as a manifesto or sermon. Perhaps, we’re too close. We don’t have the distance to gaze back at where we’ve been, in order to transmute and distil a narrative that goes beyond regurgitating that which moves or engages us. Last week at Artscape, Brett Bailey stepped up to the plate with an electrifying re-imaging of Verdi’s opera, Macbeth- a piece which reverberates in multiple directions and pings with what’s going on in our country and on the continent. It does so seamlessly, without become hung up on its source material – heady stuff which might flay a lesser accomplished theatre maker.

Bailey has set his Macbeth in contemporary north Kivu –a province of DRC – on the border of Rwanda and Uganda -a mineral rich region which includes gold, tantalite (aka coltan) and tin. Tantalite – is an essential component of  cell phones, tablets and other digital devices and in Bailey’s opera, Macbeth (played by Owen Metsileng) and Lady Macbeth (Nobulumko Mngxekeza) are mineral grabbing despots; taking what they can; with no regard for their people or the environment. They are damaged people. Macbeth was a child soldier who has experienced untold horrors and Lady Macbeth has not been able to rise above the abuse in her background. Damage – personal, political and communal – is conveyed through images which flicker on a screen– child soldiers, graphics of cellphone and washing powder adverts; shots of a denuded landscape. As the images emerge – superbly choreographed and designed by Bailey – the protagonists croon and strut their stuff on a platform made out of corrugated tin. At times, it feels like it is a boxing ring; an arena.

As a framing device, the platform every anchors the action and focusses one’s eye. Israeli lighting designer, Felice Ross saturates the protagonists and plinth with a constantly shifting palette of colour: strident sharp blues and green; blood reds. The detail is extraordinary and technically, it is beyond impressive. It’s like watching a series of paintings being unveiled – a mash up of allusions to Renaissance pieta and crucifixion paintings; images from Africa; curios, totems.  Coupled with Bailey’s projected imagery which is suspended over the action, it is breathtaking.

Verdi wrote his opera for 65 musicians and 45 singers and Bailey commissioned Belgian composer Fabrizio Cassol to arrange the score for a small orchestra of 12 and ten singers. Bailey has scrambled scenes around, left things out – and made it considerably shorter than the original.  It is sung in Verdi’s Italian and for the English surtitles, Bailey has cooked up a dialogue which dovetails with what’s on stage. For example, he uses the word “love” instead of “ardour” as might be expected in a traditional translation of Verdi.  When it is getting too complicated, he proclaims “etc” or “weird shit”. Plenty of f-words are used – particularly in relation the witches. It’s hilarious – darkly hilarious, but very funny. The text is much needed foil to the general sense of darkness, devastation and despair that Bailey is drumming home and he is very much doing that. This is not a pretty story he is telling. He means us to concentrate and absorb everything he is placing before us; to take note. Yes, it is theatre with a message but its utterly riveting theatre which builds its own narrative through the music, searing voice and visuals.  It’s a 90 minute musical, verbal and visual tableau. 

Macbeth was only for three performances [2014, Cape Town]. The production is heading off on extensive European tour but if you can catch it somewhere, it is well worth seeing this exceptional piece of theatre. As yet, there are no plans for a return season. By the third performance at Artscape, it was sold out (takes us time to get enthusiastic), so perhaps Artscape will take note and bring it back.

Macbeth, Third World Bunfight – recording of live performance in Italy at the Teatro Politeama,at the Napoli Teatro Festival in June 2016

  • Genre: Theatre, Opera, Performance Art
  • Format:
  • Duration: 1 hour 40mins
  • Language: Italian opera with English sur-titles
  • Ages: 12+
  • Film edited by: Catherine Henegan, Free State Productions.
  • Production
    Conceptualised, designed and directed by Brett Bailey
    Music by Fabrizio Cassol, adapted from Verdi’s Macbeth
    Conducted by Premil Petrovic
    Lighting by Felice Ross
    Choreographed by Natalie Fisher
  • Video Illustration & animation: Roger Williams
    Photographs in performance: Marcus Bleasdale/VII and Cedric Gerbehaye
    Macbeth – Owen Metsileng
    Lady Macbeth – Nobulumko Mngxekeza
    Banquo – Otto Maidi
    Sandile Kamle, Jacqueline Manciya, Monde Masimini, Lunga Hallam, Bulelani Madondile, Philisa Sibekoi, Thomakazi Holland
    Stanko Madic (1st violin), Jelena Dimitrijevic (2nd violin), Sasa Mirkovic (viola), Dejan Bozic (cello), Ilin-Dime Dimovski (double bass), Jasna Nadles (flute), Aleksandar Tasic (clarinet), Nenad Markovic (trumpet), Ivan Jotic (bassoon), Viktor Ilieski (trombone), Cherilee Adams (percussion), Dylan Tabisher (marimba & vibraphone)
  • Produced by Barbara Mathers
    Technical Manager Miguel Munoz
    Company Manager Catherine Henegan
    Stage Assistant Pule Sethlako
    AV engineer & technical assistant Carlo Thompson
    Re-lighter Tal Bitton
    Sound Engineer Pierre-Olivier Boulant

Image credit: supplied.