Reviewed by Eddie and Marguerite de Waal
Fred Abrahamse's Macbeth, which showed between August and September at Pieter Toerien's Montecasino Theatre, was an exercise in artistic ingenuity. With a cast of only six male actors (performing a play which usually boasts close to thirty characters), the production went far in showing what can be achieved on stage within particular limitations.
The dark, eerily distorted atmosphere of the play was established with minimal stage paraphernalia. A large table filled most of the acting space, effectively doubling as a stage within a stage. Moving around and on top of this construction allowed the actors to express intriguing shifts in dynamics between hospitality and violence, formality and anarchy, distance and intimacy (after the murder of Duncan, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth were seated at opposite ends of the gigantic table, in contrast to their meeting on the table-as-stage in scheming companionship earlier in the play). Furthermore, clever use was made of puppets to represent younger characters such as Banquo's son, Fleance. The three witches would have fit perfectly in a modern horror film, floating about the stage, robed with black veils and wearing animal skull masks.
Tristan de Beer as Lady Macbeth and Tailyn Ramsamy as Banquo offered particularly strong performances. De Beer, with no falsetto, no wig and no drag, was a very able Lady Macbeth. He is a strong actor with good voice control and clear diction, and it takes, interestingly, much less time than expected to get used to the idea of Lady Macbeth played by a male actor. Also, the dissonance in Lady Macbeth's 'unsexed' character is underscored even more strongly by the fact that she is not played by a woman. Ramsamy's Banquo is innocent and well-meaning, but also much more aware than the gullible Duncan, and duly suspicious of his friend's ascent to the throne.
Ramsamy's doubling as Lady Macduff was less successful, largely because of the odd interpretation of the scene in which she and her son are murdered. The scene starts with a potentially endearing interaction between mother and son, and is shattered by violence when they are murdered by Macbeth's men. The effect of this was lost, however: the table-stage pushed Ramsamy's Lady Macduff to the extreme right, and held her son (represented by a puppet) remote at the other end. Lady Macduff was aloof, sunglassed, cross-legged and cold, and died at a distance while the puppet-child was drowned in his bowl of porridge. The strangeness of this scene also broke the continuity with Macduff's grief when he is told the news of the slaughter of his family.
Aside from this, the production was cohesive in its interpretation, immersing the audience in the world of the play and engaging them in the downfall of its main characters. The somber mood benefitted from counter-balancing by the character the porter (Jeremy Richard), who in this case also doubles up as a servant in other scenes. This darkly comic figure therefore appeared at intervals throughout the production, contributing to an underlying sense of horrific absurdity.
Staging the play must have required exceptional focus and coordination from the entire cast (each actor, according to the cast list, played a minimum of three characters) and creative team; this was done with great success. We look forward to any future productions of Shakespeare at the Pieter Toerien Theatre.