Macbeth: Who Is That Bloodied Man?

Based on Shakespeare
Biuro Podrózy, Poland
Belfast Festival at Queen’s

Production photo

Before the fall of the Soviet Union, when the State’s bureaucrats censored every expression of free speech, theatre became, in Czechoslovakia, Poland and Romania, the people’s parliament where classic drama might be subtly subverted to give expression to the very stuff of revolution.

Texts were edited: but more effectively, as directors quickly discovered, theatrical productions were more effective when they became more visual, more physical, thus allowing criticisms of communism which the censors, often a literally-minded bunch of aparatchicks, couldn’t spot.

So, instead of Shakespeare presented, often apolitically, by men in tights and women in cleavage in the British tradition, the Bard’s villains were portrayed as Nazis to a knowing audience which read every jackboot as a representation, not of the brutal German invasion of the 1930s, but of the Russians of the 1940s.

So there’s your context for Poland’s Biuro Podrózy’s Macbeth currently playing the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen’s where, in Barrow Square in the docklands, in the shadow of a Catholic church which its bishops - but not its congregation- would keep shut, leather-coated stormtroopers swirl across the cobblestones through a maze of burning logs, their headlights cutting through the evening light, their arcane motorcycle sidecar-mounted machine-guns plopping as Banquo attempts his vain escape from a Macbeth whose hands drip with blood and whose brow in crowned with thorns.

Few fragments of the original speeches remain, and what is delivered comes in heavily accented amplified shouts.

A male prisoner is dragged, naked, in a wire cage across the courtyard. Metal doors suggesting a concentration camp’s furnaces clang shut. Luger pistols point at the innocent, and, when victims die, a vertical log, one which will double as a the wood from Dunsinane, tumbles.

Only Banquo’s son, his white shirt crossed by braces holding up his schoolboy shorts, will survive. He too is another of the frequent Holocaus symbols which permeate this Mad Max take on the Scottish Play. High above him a female singer, dressed as a statue of the Virgin, sings soprano and the witches, black clad nuns with white veils, stride the stage, colossi in stilts.

Not to be missed as an experience for those who’ve never been to an eastern bloc theatre festival, this more than welcome contribution to the province’s often too inward-looking theatrical experience is nevertheless a Macbeth which would have had much more of an impact if, as the company achieved on its previous production of Carmen Funebre, there'd been a dousing of the ambient street lights and the blocking off of lit windows in adjoining offices. But then you’d have had to been in a totalitarian state to achieve that darkness.

Until 31st October

Reviewer: Ian Hill

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