"There 's daggers in men's smiles" Act II, scene iv
|Centraltheater ; March 19, 2009 Leipzig, Germany|
Director : Sebastian Hartmann ; Starring : Thomas Lawinky (Macbeth), Cordelia Wege (Lady Macbeth), Peter René Lüdicke (Banquo), Andreas Keller (Duncan), Guido Lambrecht (Macduff), Maximilian Brauer (Malcolm and Donalbain), Uschi
Reviewed on : 2009-03-20 19:10:58 ; Reviewed by : Annett Baumast
|And where was Macbeth performed that evening? Under Sebastian Hartmann’s direction, the Scottish play turns into a blood and gore comedy of the same name but only roughly with the same content. Although based on the beautiful, congenial translation by the late Thomas Brasch, Hartmann often distorts Shakespeare’s language and play to an extent that makes it difficult to associate the production with the work of the bard.
To begin with, it is not the Weird Sisters who open the play, and they never show up throughout the entire performance either. Instead, Macduff makes the first entrance by walking through the auditorium, shouting the words “open up, open up” over and over again while hammering on the walls of the theatre with his hands. Once arriving on stage, he gets completely undressed, taking off his rather modern black kilt, which is representative of the Scottish oriented and somewhat antiquated style of the costumes that also feature fake furs and chain armour. (It probably should be noted here that on stages in Germany, full frontal nudity may perhaps not be the norm but is also not totally uncommon, so that usually only few members of the audience would be shocked by such a display. Nobody was visibly or audibly shocked in Leipzig on the day of the performance.) Macduff quite distinctly sets the scene with nudity and repetitions, acting in front of the iron curtain on a forestage completely covered in fine sand.
Duncan – already stabbed and running around with a knife in his chest – as well as his sons Malcolm and Donalbain – who are played by only one, seemingly schizophrenic, actor – and Lenox join him on stage, embarking on a senseless conversation until Rosse arrives, who – by mistake – cuts off all fingers of Lenox’ right hand with an axe in the course of his report of the battle. So much for slapstick, which remains another characteristic of this production. Once they leave the stage, Macbeth and Banquo enter through the iron curtain, which is still down, hiding the back of the stage from the view of the audience. The curtain itself is painted black with the black words “Gott mit uns” (God with us), a feature of the theatre, not of this production. It serves as a screen for videos, which are shown throughout the performance, often depicting battle scenes, specifically created with the participating actors and actresses.
Macbeth and Banquo walk through the fine sand, devouring parsley, and discuss their recent success by shouting at each other until the “Dunkelsprecher” (the “dark sayer”) arrives. Or rather, is put on stage through a door in the iron curtain: it is a small black pug, a very stoic one at that (named Uschi as we learn from the programme), which does not move but remains where it has been placed. It is hard to believe but this pug is actually “playing” the witches... . Banquo and Macbeth take it up and “hear” the Weird Sisters’ prophecies even though, of course, Uschi does not utter a peep other than a faint but not too hostile grumble.
It is pointless to recount the abstruse story of the production, which roughly follows the Macbeth plot but freely adds and takes away. A few good ideas and impressions are worth a mention, however. First and foremost, it is Lady Macbeth’s visible pregnancy, which seems an interesting idea, elaborating on L.C. Knights’ question of “How many children had Lady Macbeth?” The line “I would ... have plucked my nipple…” rang specifically eerily and it raised the expectation that Lady Macbeth might – at a later point in the play and perhaps voluntarily – lose her child. As it turns out, however, this idea is far from being an original one as the actress is really pregnant.
The sand on the stage, while freely distributed to, or rather thrown at those members of the audience sitting in the front row (me), contributed to numerous beautiful pictures. These were created through the ingenious lighting effects, bathing the stage in water (e.g. at Duncan’s death) or fire. Handsfull of sand thrown into the air and falling from the ceiling created a feeling of rain on stage, and often sand was used to support the text. One example is Macduff, who, when hearing of the death of his wife and children, strews sand into his eyes, visualising the expression of “strewing sand into somebody’s eyes” (which is comparable to “pulling the wool over somebody’s eyes” in English). Next to sand, the front row people (me) were also hit by Macbeth himself, who lay at our (or rather on my) feet for a while, continuing to speak to and spit at Lady Macbeth from this rather uncomfortable position. Turning to me, Lady Macbeth commented on his action and congratulated me on not having been spat at – an attempt at meta-theatre, but not a very successful one from a Lady Macbeth that remains quite bland throughout the performance.
This incoherent production ends with – alas! – Macbeth dead and all the actors and actresses sitting in the sand at the front of the stage. While a blurry video is shown, a child reads the famous “tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” over loudspeakers, which is then repeated by all the characters talking at the same time and concluded by (the dead) Macbeth, who speaks his proper closing lines. Certainly a highlight of this production is the invitation to leave the theatre, which Thomas Lawinky extends to the audience about fifteen minutes before the play is over. His most convincing argument: “Shakespeare has already left a long time ago!” And he couldn’t have been more right.
To sum up this production: an incoherent adaptation of the play with no clear message, lots of theatrical blood and faeces, a lot of nudity, modern rock songs, quotes from Schiller and other playwrights, chronological failures and attempts at meta-theatre that didn’t really work. The explanation for the unusual length of the applause (from a rather young audience) escaped me as I was busy trying to get rid of all the stage sand in my cleavage.
Sir John Gilbert, R.A.,
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