Monday, August 03, 2009

Who is that bloodied man?

Nisha and I went to see the Polish open-air Macbeth, which is being performed beside the Thames at the National's new Square 2. It's presented by Teatr Biuno Podrozy, who specialise in very visual, physical, outdoor work. I remember seeing them years ago, doing Carmen Funebre at the City of London Festival - and being totally thrilled by it. The Macbeth is not quite the stunning experience that was, but it's still very exciting. You have, as far as possible, to forget about Shakespeare's play - except in terms of a synopsis which tells you the story (because the performance doesn't). There are very few lines at all (and some of them aren't from the play anyway), but there is a powerful visual poetry and a language of ritual and brutality which works wonderfully on its own level, and which communicates in a large open-air space in ways which text-based theatre finds very challenging. I kept comparing it to the difficulties I faced last year at Lake Tahoe, trying to get the text of the Dream to resonate out of doors. I remember it all got much easier once it was dark: this performance of Macbeth has the advantage of only being an hour long, and so starts at 9.30, after the sun's gone down. And because it's about roughness rather than beauty, it copes very well with the unpredictability of the open-air show: at one point a passing hooligan threw a beer can into the space - and it seemed like part of the show. There's lots of fire - thrillingly used - motorbikes and gunshots, and blaring music. I remember years ago, when I tackled the play at university, and was pitching it to the college societies for financial backing, explaining the "leather jackets and jackboots" approach, the beer kegs and the cigarettes. "Macbeth on motorbikes?" somebody sneered. Well - here you can see it literally! And very exciting it is too.

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