One of the mysteries of Shakespeare is how, 400 years and a vocabulary change down the line, we still connect to the world and language of his plays. His popularity seems to spiral and reach across borders, fuelling various worldwide interpretations of his stories and characters that somehow transcend time and culture. With the Globe’s Globe to Globe initiative we are lucky enough to catch some of these very different cultures’ interpretations and responses to what the lifeblood of the Bard really is – for us it might be his language, for others it’s the world and characters he creates. Either way, his plays seem to expose what a culture’s unique expression is and somehow still maintain its universal humanity.
Staging a Cantonese production of Macbeth, the Tang Shu-wing Theatre Studio proves that watching a performance of a Shakespeare play in a language you don’t understand will reveal something deeper in our otherwise language-dependant society. For us, Shakespeare is normally associated with the eloquent language and verse, but Tang Shu-wing’s highly expressive production, with roots in Asian physical theatre, aims to explore what his stories and characters are really about. Their Macbeth is comparable to the aesthetics of dance and focuses on the expression of bodies – many moments are explored through slow movement and resemble ritual dance, and the high stylisation of the production is like a canvas of psychological images, reflecting the world and mind of the characters.
Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are a modern couple caught in a dream of ancient China. Throughout the story, Macbeth commits unforgivable crimes and the couple is tested until the moment they wake up in modern time and reflect on the consequences of their dream. All performances carry weight, precision and commitment and both Macbeth’s intensity and Lady Macbeth’s presence and drive are impressive and riveting. As a company, they have a sense for detail and physical expression and some of the scenic images they create are just stunning and incredibly intelligent. It is clear that director Tang Shu-wing has a great eye for detail and analysis, and some of the motifs that reoccur throughout are extremely beautiful. The analysis and angle on the story is technically fascinating and clever, however the language barrier coupled with the high stylisation makes it difficult to understand what is going on at times. Sometimes the physical expression is prolonged too much, with slow movement dominating a big chunk of the piece. However, the live music picks it up and enthrals us in what feels like an ancient ritual, and the beautiful period costumes gives it a flavour of mystery.
It is a piece that demands your brain to work at high speed, but if you want to experience some innovative physical theatre and don’t mind the language barrier, Macbeth is a cultural and visually stirring evening.
Macbeth is playing at Shakespeare’s Globe until 23 August. For tickets and more information see the Shakespeare’s Globe website. Photo: Shakespeare’s Globe.