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Tuesday August 27, 2013 MYT 6:00:00 AM
Tuesday August 27, 2013 MYT 11:24:53 AM
by terence toh
Lady Duncan (Dawn Cheong) makes General Macbett (Dinesh Kumar) an offer he can’t refuse. – KLPac
Double double, toil and trouble. An absurdist version of Macbeth turns tragedy to comedy.
THERE is bizarre, there is very bizarre, and then there is Eugene Ionesco’s Macbett.
What can you say about an absurdist remix of a popular Shakespeare tragedy that features a main character claiming to be born of a gazelle, seductive Yoko Ono-esque witches, and a literal walking, singing forest?
Ionesco’s play was staged at the recently opened Actor’s Studio at KuAsh Theatre in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur, earlier this month. Much like its lead character Macbett, the show proved to be bold, ambitious and captivating, if a little flawed.
Directed by Kelvin Wong, Macbett featured the talents of Amanda Ang, UiHua Cheah, Dawn Cheong, Ollie Johanan, Dinesh Kumar, Grace Ng, Matthew Ong, Tung Jit Yang, Alexis Wong and Nur Zakuan.
Macbett centres on two generals, Macbett and Banco, who put down a rebellion in the service of their lord, Archduke Duncan, a lascivious and cruel tyrant. After being encouraged by the seductive Lady Duncan, Macbett joins forces with Banco to assassinate Duncan and crown himself king. However, he is haunted by the ghosts of his victims, and discovers that his new wife is not all that she seems to be.
Ionesco is one of the foremost playwrights of the Theatre of the Absurd, which focuses on human beings trapped in an incomprehensible world. Some of the hallmarks of this school of theatre are pointless-sounding, repetitive dialogue and surrealistic imagery.
In Macbett, these devices are used effectively to emphasise the illogical nature of war and revolutions: characters are trapped in an endless cycle of bloodshed, treachery and rebellion. Banco and Macbett take down the rebels Glamiss and Candor, only to later similarly rebel, and have to be taken down by even more blood-thirsty villains.
The most absurd characters in this play, however, are the nameless civilians ruled by Archduke Duncan and his successors; the old newspaper men, rapping chefs and lemonade sellers that pop up throughout the story. Despite everything they undergo, they constantly welcome each new ruler with cheers and open arms: a strange quirk of human behaviour that would be hilarious if it wasn’t so depressingly true.
Despite Macbett’s surrealistic nature, however, its story proved remarkable easy to follow, touching on universal themes such as desire, ambition and revenge. Its absurdist elements were inserted well throughout and were never too bizarre to the point of alienating the audience.
Macbett seemed tricky to stage, with scenes occurring in a multitude of places, including a beach, a moving elevator and a bathroom. Director Wong, though, did a good job bringing these places to life, while maintaining a surreal nature to the play’s setting.
Lines from the original Macbeth were occasionally employed, often in new contexts, which was a very inspired touch. While one did not have to be familiar with Shakespeare’s play to enjoy Macbett, knowledge of it certainly increased one’s enjoyment of the production.
Acting was slightly disappointing, however. While Johanan was charismatic as the conflicted Banco, and Cheong had her moments as the mysterious Lady Duncan, most of the other performances ranged from decent to wooden.
Macbett’s comedy was done well, though, with laughs aplenty at much of the show’s surreal elements. A scene where Macbett encounters the witches (a choreographed piece featuring Latin chanting) was mesmerising to watch, while a scene of the execution of Glamiss (represented by balloons popped by hedge clippers) was hilarious. Characters also tended to break out into song and rap from time to time, which was fun to watch, and a scene with Archduke Duncan making a speech that subtly belittled his subjects was very well-received.
One of the show’s most inspired moments came at the climax, which featured a cameo by actor Abdul Qahar Aqilah (not mentioned in any of the show’s promotional material at all!) as the savage Macol. This surprise appearance was brilliantly executed, and was perfectly in line with the random nature of a farce.
The play also proved to be quite lengthy, clocking in at over two hours. Thankfully, capable directing and a lively script ensured the audience was kept mostly enraptured, despite a few scenes dragging a little.
All in all, the show proved to be quite entertaining despite its acting flaws. Absurdist plays often have a bad rap, popularly dismissed as confusing, pretentious or overly abstract. Macbett proves, however, that absurdism can be gripping and capable of enhancing a story if utilised properly.
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Entertainment, Entertainment, Macbett, Shakespeare, theatre, Eugene Ionesco, Kuala Lumpur
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