Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

courageous, thought-provoking and fresh


Out of Joint , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , October-18-04
The tenth anniversary production of Macbeth by Out of Joint is a colourful, energetic, daring and sometimes harrowing experience. The modern day adaptation of the Scottish Play self-consciously fuses two distinct continents, cultures and traditions – Africa and Europe – to disturbingly powerful effect.

We, the audience, experience a gamut of emotions as we accompany Macbeth through the bloody, destructive and brutal aftermath of imperialism in an unspecified yet nonetheless strangely familiar 21st century African state.

Recent reported and televised horrors in Rwanda, Liberia, Uganda, Sudan, Zimbabwe … are echoed in this highly original treatment of Shakespeare’s play, as we witness child soldiers, butchery and amputation, Kalashnikovs and machetes, voodoo, drug abuse and corruption and terrifying despotism.

Shakespeare’s depiction of the events surrounding the accession to the eleventh century Scottish throne has never seemed so topical, recognisable and, sad to say, relevant.

Macbeth (Danny Sapani) is wholly believable as a once loyal and honourable member of an unidentified African national guard “gone wrong”. This sensitively delineated performance charts one upstanding and decent man’s gradual degeneration and transformation into a psychopathic, depraved and evil tyrant who sports fluorescent fright wigs whilst displaying erratic bouts of acute paranoia. We tremble alongside those he admonishes, chides and humiliates.

Similarly, Lady Macbeth (Monica Dolan) almost indiscernibly changes from an ambitious, confident, articulate and beautiful socialite into a pathetic, traumatised wreck - delusional and alone, as she is awkwardly surveyed by the finely characterised Doctor ( Ben Onwukwe ) who for reasons of self-preservation would clearly rather not have heard as much as he does when eavesdropping on Lady Macbeth.

It is to the credit of two worthy and well-delivered lead performances that despite our revulsion at the blood-bath the Macbeths have both fuelled, we are left feeling an element of pity for this once golden couple and their self-inflicted demise.

Within the wider context of post-colonial politics, Macbeth and his consort are to some extent shown to be victims in a world that has lost any sense of moral direction – we witness their crimes within the ethical vacuum left by European imperialism in Africa, and by extension we are no longer allowed to engage in a distanced and over-rationalised attribution of guilt.

Without heavy handed finger-wagging or hectoring, Max Stafford Clark and company underline the fact that we are involved, we are complicit. This is not comfortable spectatorship.

Innovative staging and imaginative use of performance space adds to the audience sense of involvement (set design by Es Devlin), ensuring that we do not just observe the fate of a medieval king from a distant and remote time and place – we experience the rise and fall of tyranny.

Similarly, subtle exotic jungle sound effects (Sound Design by Gareth Fry) such as birds of paradise squawking, lions roaring, elephants charging, subliminally transport us to Africa.

Stafford Clark’s production successfully closes the space between us and them, here and there, now and then, by adapting one of the cornerstones of Western dramatic culture – Shakespeare’s Macbeth – to an African context which is entirely apposite and relevant to an audience today.

This is more than re-contextualisation – it is political theatre with a capital and effective P – a point emphasised by the audaciously successful editing and updating of the Porter’s Scene (perceptively and movingly played by Christopher Ryan). Observations about the power of e-mail and websites to alternately help or dominate developing nations from afar are alluded to in this comic and heavily ironic re-scripted interlude, and it was heart-warming that, just for once, the majority of the audience audibly shared in the humour of this scene.

Similarly, this subtly amended text plays effectively with the linguistic heritage left by imperialism – mostly in English, sometimes in African dialect, occasionally in French – additions and amendments that only serve to make Shakespeare’s language vividly topical and pertinent once again.

This is a decidedly courageous, thought-provoking and fresh approach to one of Shakespeare’s best known tragedies, and it works

Reviewed by: Alison Forsyth

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