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Merciless Desire, Mayhem and Madness in Nature - The Bard’s Major Tragedy in the Perfect Setting

Roshan Sewpersad

Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Cast: Kurt Wustmann, Claire Watling, Dumisane-Sizwe Mbebe, Mark Elderkin, Daniel Judes, Joko Scott, David Johnson, Brett Goldin, Altan Ungerer, Mdu Kweyama, Marcel Meyer, Milton Schorr, Robyn Scott, Nick Volpe, Oliver Stephens, Brent Palmer, Tauriq Jenkins, Andrew Roux
Director: Geoffrey Hyland
Costumes: Ilka Louw
Set: Stephen Mayers
Hair: Tony Martin (Yazo 4 Hair)
Lighting: Malcolm Hurrel, Fahiem Bardien
Choreography: John Smith.

Maynardville Open-Air Theatre, Cape Town.

12 January to 21 February 2004.

Apart from her acerbic antics on the hit show The Weakest Link, Anne Robinson is also the host of the BBC talk show Guess who’s coming to Dinner, in which an assortment of celebs and the like choose six guests, characters from both past and present, that they would invite to their ideal dinner party. William Shakespeare would definitely make my guest list, notwithstanding my still-anticipated invitation from Ms Robinson.

Anticipation for the annual Shakespeare production at Maynardville Open-Air Theatre is justly fulfilled this year in Macbeth, directed by Geoff Hyland. The title alone conjures a tempest of reactions. The play that dares not speak its name, yet is familiar to just about anyone who’s encountered a foul spot. A witch’s brew a-bubble. Mel Gibson, hand on sporran and spear, in Braveheart. And the association with Mr Gibson goes further, as the styling of the Maynardville Macbeth is reminiscent of the apocalyptic Mad Max - and it works brilliantly.

The universality of Shakespeare lies not only in the artistic brilliance of his writing, but also in his visceral themes and imagery that resonate across time. This is amplified by the open-air setting and the clever use of lighting, sound and styling. The costumes by Ilka Louw, the props and the variety of punkish hairstyles by Tony Martin of Yazo 4 Hair are striking. The set is minimalist, but has clever configurations. It reminds one of a Chinese box with hidden secrets. The Eastern and African influences are evident in all aspects of the production, notably in the music and choreography.

The opening scene, with witch boys being birthed from suspended wombs like caterpillars wriggling free from cocoa pods, parallels the psychological undercurrents that burst maddeningly to the surface as the play progresses. The witches, the battle and coronation scenes are a devilish delight to watch, complete with fire jugglers and flaming standards.

Both leads, Kurst Wustmann and Claire Watling, give good performances and are ably supported by the youthful cast. Some suggestions for improvement would be a stronger performance from Joko Scott in the role of Duncan, and for Wustmann to add more nuance and depth to his portrayal of Macbeth in order to develop his character more convincingly and interestingly. His obvious enthusiasm for the role is probably responsible for his pulling out all the stops too soon, as in the opening scenes he dominates the character of the king far too easily. Watling delivers her soliloquies impressively and commands the stage well with Wustmann. She does impress.

Another delight to watch is the only other female member of the cast, Robyn Scott, convincing in the physically demanding roles of the comic Porter and Lady Macduff. Mark Elderkin does well as Banquo, modulating the intensity of his delivery.

Hyland allows the play to take shape throbbingly, echoing the bloody and torturous themes. The portrayal of the turmoil that the characters are cast into could be elevated, but for the sheer thrill of a good Macbeth, this production is highly recommended.


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