Sunday, September 11, 2005

A Babelous Macbeth

Went to see Theatre Babel's Macbeth last night with Abu.

Now Abu is not a great one for "culture" in any shape or form unless it takes place on a rugby pitch. The last play I was able to lure him to was Alone It Stands which tells of the All Blacks defeat by Munster.

But he has a fondness for Macbeth which he studied for 'O' Level and got A2 for, as he constantly reminds me. (He actually repeated his fifth form so that he could stay on at school as Malay College rugby captain, so he studied The Merchant of Venice as well.)

We arrived at KLPac just in time for the performance: a combination his tardiness (why do men have to take so long to get ready to go out?) and the traffic snarl on Tun Razak, which makes you want to scream at the folks who had the clever idea of siting a new theatre in the most conjested part of the city.

We had complementary seats courtesy British Coucil (perk of the job!), and Pentas 1 was packed out.

The play was visually gorgeous - a lesson in how much effect can be achieved with great simplicity: suspended swords and churning mist, copious quantities of it. And the film had a soundtrack (composed by Anthea Haddow) which created an ambience of unease with ghostly, distorted sound. You can taste the atmosphere here - (click on Current).

I don't often give much thought to the lighting designer of a play but Kai Fischer created convincingly - eerie marshland, claustrophobic castle and Birnam Wood.

This was an extremely pacy version of Macbeth which had the whole drama played out in an hour and a half. Much was cut, much was reshaped. The three witches with their hubbly-bubbliness had disappeared (much to Abu's chagrin because this was the only bit of the play he could quote at me in the car), in their place a demonically possesed child who physically stayed with Macbeth through much of the play. There were echoes of The Exorcist and The Ring for sure.

Despite strong performances (I particularly liked Lewis Howden's Macbeth and Peter d'Souza's magnanimous Duncan), I felt emotionally removed from the production - was this because of physical distance from the stage? (I think I would have preferred to see the play in a more intimate theatre-in-the-round setting ... Pentas 2 would have suited the staging much more, though of course it's much smaller).

And though I liked the paciness, it meant that much of the dialogue was delivered very quickly. Couple that with Scots accents and I found that I missed perhaps half of the words. (This seemed to be a common complaint, talking to other folks afterward.) What a relief it was when the famous soliliquies were delivered and I knew them word for word. (How many times have I taught this?)

Abu said he liked the performance, especially the sword fight at the end. Though he thought that Macbeth should have won because he was much the better fighter. Now that would have been a totally original version!
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Allan Koay 郭少樺 said...

off topic: Brokeback Mountain just won the Golden Lion for Best Film at the Venice Film Fest.


bibliobibuli said...

Thanks so much for telling me!

Anonymous said...

I studied Macbeth for O Levels and I wished that it was another text. Urh... I know I'm a bad student. And I got a C for literature. I know I know... Yvonne naughty girl. :-( But I went for two major surgeries in between studying for SPM. hehe.. coverline.

Kak Teh said...

I had to do Shakespeare in Malay with IB students. Can you imagine how difficult it is? how do you translate, To be or not to be...

Anonymous said...

kak teh:

translating to be or not to be is easy. whats the problem? shakespeare has been translated into all languages.

in malay it would be "bertindak atau tidak...itulah soalnya."

they've done Hamlet in malaysia so many times. perhaps you should have caught them.

bibliobibuli said...

anonymous - *sigh* I'm not so sure about your translation. This is from a review by Jit Murad of a local Hamlet:

On top of that I thought this translation clumsy and unimaginative. For example, “Bertindak atau tidak bertindak?” is the clunky substitute for “To be or not to be?” whereas for me, Hamlet’s plain existential question translates more powerfully as “Jadi atau tak jadi?”

This makes more sense to me. (I would have translated it as "Hidup atau tidak" but then I'm a Mat Salleh and bound to get it wrong).

Kak Teh said...

i have read all the translated works of shakespeeare into Malay - hmmm...more confusing!
how do you use the puns -which he used a lot. I am all the more confused after reading the Malay translations.

Pyewacket said...

Fun to read your thoughts on this at last -- I've turned in my review! We agreed about most points, although I *hated* the fussy, distracting set design, lighting and nonstop fog -- ugh! I like *really* minimal design, with the focus on words and actors.

I liked the Linda Blair-Exorcist Child; liked Howden, hated Knowles (Lady Macbeth). Liked Grieve (Macduff). I didn't think the accents were difficult -- they seemed pretty smoothly international to me -- but I think the acoustics at KLpac are awful!

And I had a flat tire after the show. What a night out!

bibliobibuli said...

kak teh - couldn't even begin to go there with the translation!

3rd chimp - yes, maybe it was the acoustics ... I felt as if I were trying to listen in a foreign language. Nice to have your views. am looking forward to your review.