Review- Macbeth- Hong Kong Arts Festival


By: Justine Denning


In the accompanying programme for Tang Shu-wing's Macbeth, the director suggests that 'Shakespeare is a journey into the unknown', and that it can be. Shakespeare is rich in motifs, language and characterisation and for these reasons many productions can fall prey to the weight of Bards work. Tang Shu-wing, however, has brought a fresh approach to his production of Macbeth.


This is a play within a dream. A modern couple fall into a supposed dream where they are transported to ancient China and become the central characters themselves. This is a carefully crafted decision, the ending suggests that the prolific sentiments of humanity, cursed by its own ambition, rings true for our contemporary reality. Indeed, the greed and dark desire of humans rings true for all, whether it is exists in a female body, a Scottish Macbeth, or one that dwells in ancient China. 


The modern clothing Macbeth wears, reminds us how the traits we observe and despise in Macbeth exist within ourselves, for it is in stark contrast to the characters in ancient Chinese armor and traditional cloth. There are some excellent staging choices here and the dressing of the stage is minimalist, (a vast white backdrop of a pale mountains, a few adaptable period props) but the stage never feels empty. It is full with the choreographed movements of battle, regardless of whether it be with a sword or the battle of the characters own torments. 


The three witches cast an excellent air of mystery and magic from their opening scenes, dressed in white, (the colour which later dresses Macbeths assassins and is itself the colour of death in Asian culture) ragged and identical, they capture our attention. It is their simplicity in clothing and in choreography which creates this eerily effect.


This minimalistic design choice, notable in the limited palettes of colour in the staging, and the extensive use of lighting, was attributed to the director himself as he states in the programme 'My minimal design and physical approach partly come from my cultural heritage as an Asian'. It was therefore highly intriguing to watch this production performed entirely in Cantonese. 


The lines being delivered in their rich form, was admittedly missed, but I do believe that if I had the multi-lingual ability of both Cantonese and English, I would be in a greater position to comment on the success of its translation.  One of the productions simpler flaws is due to the subtitles being placed above the stage rather than to the side, it proved tiresome to repeatedly gaze up and down, and occasionally missing the actors expression in a pivotal scene, due to this slight hitch. 


The actors themselves were strong and sculptured, Ng Wai-shek is the hardened but hollow Macbeth, representing a man of discipline but moral weakness, an ardious task for an actor but one he takes upon admirably with intense gazes into the auditorium and delusion that deepens through the acts. Rosa-Maria Velasco performs Lady Macbeth with passion, and subtle grace. Lady Macbeth is a character which can easily slip into that of a pantomime performance but here Rosa Maria Velasco preserves the morality of the Lady and the human behind the ambition. 


Some decisions were perhaps mistaken, not using Banquo in ghost form during Macbeth's delusions was an odd choice, as the dreamy quality of the production would have fitted with this appearance. Some of the more important scenes consist of the cast dramatically dashing through the centre stage and the action remains unseen which can prove frustrating. 


A notable mention is the infusion of drumming and musicality by Billy Leong, his contribution is extremely valuable and his individual music performances off stage must be acknowledged as completely necessary for setting the scene and the atmosphere. 


This production is a new fusion of contemporary and ancient culture and is certainly intriguing. Highly recommended for those desiring to see Shakespeare from a new perspective. 


Macbeth is playing through March 20th. For more information, click here.


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