A review by James Buxton w for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

CandyKing Productions and Celtic Kiss present

Macbeth

 

by William Shakespeare

Directed by Scott Le Crass

Adapted by Eamon McDonell

 

Greenwich Playhouse

5 April – 1 May 2011

 

 

In this all black version of Macbeth, CandyKing and Celtic Kiss re-imagine the Scottish warring factions of Shakespeare's original, as the ancient African Tribes of Benin. Thus the Scottish highlands become the African Savannah, chain mail is replaced with flowing robes, helmets with head dresses and witches with a witch doctor. It is an ambitious concept that draws parallels between the violence, superstition and tribalism of medieval African civilizations. The very fact Macbeth is still referred to as The Scottish play is testament to its enduring legacy of being cursed, no doubt due to its profoundly disturbing subject matter.

Duncan (Lennie Blasse) is Oba (ruler) of Benin, a pre-colonial African empire, in what is now Nigeria. Macbeth (Olusegun Akingbola) is loyal to Duncan but after hearing Oshimili, the witch, (Linda Mathis) who prophesizes that he shall become Oba, he allows his conniving wife, Lady Macbeth (Diana Walker) to convince him to murder peaceful old Duncan in his sleep. As a result, Macbeth breaks down, shocked at the barbarity of his own actions, forcing Lady Macbeth to take charge. Once Macbeth becomes Oba, a downward spiral of  paranoia and fear begins to set in, as the guilty couple become victims of their own minds, plagued by their horrific deeds, they embark on murdering everyone they think poses a threat to power, in Shakespeare's most chilling of tragedies.

Credit is due to CandyKing and Celtic Kiss for representing a different take from the conventional approach, yet the African tribal setting is not as convincing or extreme as it could have been. One of the major frustrations is the lack of consistency in the accents, which varies from the traditionally, oratorical style, to African, Caribbean and South London accents. This lack of unification in pronunciation undermines the setting of the play, which could have felt more immersive if everyone had spoken with an African accent. At times, some of the actors’ diction is incomprehensible, and more often than not, not enough time or space is given to Shakespeare's language to express its intrinsic power. The language of the play is hauntingly poetic, full of, psychotic insights that can be frighteningly powerful, and though the cast have grasped the meaning of the lines, too much effort is placed on the physicality of the emotion, rather than the muscularity of the language.

There is no doubt Akingbola gives a vivacious performance as Macbeth, and at times his episodes of madness are genuinely disturbing. Yet his shift from panic-stricken protagonist to warmongering villain occurs so suddenly, it does not seem believable. Akingbola's emotional vigour may have actually got in the way of the psychological turmoil Macbeth suffers. Walker as Lady Macbeth is compelling, exuding a strong sense of composure in a chilling performance that captures her character’s malicious deceit. Her psychotic breakdown is particularly harrowing as she goes from proud African Queen to a hollow eyed, jabbering wreck, clutching a candle between two bloody stumps.

The Greenwich Playhouse's small black box theatre lends itself well to the intensity and inner torment at the dark heart of Macbeth. While the Djembe drumming adds a tribal atmosphere that works well to produce the play's African setting.

CandyKing and Celtic Kiss have uprooted the cultural heritage of traditional Shakespearean performance and planted new seeds that could grow with further development. For the reinterpretation of Macbeth in an African tribal setting is an innovative idea. Le Crass does employ some strong parallels, such as when Mac Duff's wife and children are slaughtered in the manner of an honour killing. Yet, it felt that the production had not fully engaged with the ample potential one could draw from the savage, mystical, honour bound histories of tribal Africa. Mathis, witch doctor for example, could have been far more sinister, drawing on the ancient traditions of Voodoo and tribal superstitions to create a sense of a spirit world at the heart of African animism. There is emotion and dedication here, they just need to dig deeper, introduce consistency to their accents and allow Shakespeare's language to speak for itself, then perhaps, this performance of “Black Macbeth would seem “pure as snow”.

 

 
Greenwich Playhouse
Greenwich Station Forecourt, 189 Greenwich High Road, London SE10, 8JA
Telephone: 020 8858 9256
E-Mail: BoxOffice@Galleontheatre.co.uk
Tuesday to Saturday 7.30 pm
Price: £10-12
http://www.ticketweb.co.uk/user/?region=xxx&query=schedule&promoter=greenwich1

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