On paper and poster, the acclaimed new Martinus Basson rework of the Shakespearian classic Macbeth is a theatrical masterpiece. It has everything: a star-studded cast, a masterful hand of direction and poetically translated script. Taken on their own, each of these elements lends itself to brilliance, yet brought together for two hours on stage, this production leaves a hollow void while simultaneously being overbearing.
Renamed with an Afrikaans twist, macbeth.slapeloos draws on the insanity that sets in after Macbeth famously kills the king in order to rise to the top himself, fulfilling the prophecy of the seers. Macbeth (Dawid Minnaar) and Lady Macbeth (Anna-Mart van der Merwe) have planned the regicide together, and the guilt and ghosts of the act drive both of them to insanity and insomnia, hence the title ‘slapeloos’ (sleepless).
Other legendary faces on stage are Jana Cilliers in the role of the Narrator, opening and closing macbeth.slapeloos with unanswered questions, and Antoinette Kellerman as Duncan, the king who first wears the poisonous crown. Seeing these South African legends together on stage is a rare treat, and it is almost worth sitting through two hours of Shakespearian Afrikaans and sensory overload to see their brilliant acting. Every award that macbeth.slapeloos has won is absolutely deserved but despite this concentration of mature talent, no one in the audience was moved to a standing ovation.
Exploring the massive topics of war, the overthrow of kings, political manipulation and the occult, macbeth.slapeloos not only leans to the dark side but revels in it. Morbid as the subject matter is, Basson’s stage direction includes an interesting but excessive use of macabre war imagery from Romania, Syria and Libya projected onto a screen behind the cast. As the violence in the play escalates, so the imagery builds to a crescendo of pictures of bloody and battered corpses. In a glaring juxtaposition to this uncomfortable assault on the senses, other scenes offer projections of deep space and galaxies. These images are at times reflected in the two giant moveable mirrors with which the actors occasionally interact – presumably some symbolic meaning of the characters going through their own personal reflection – but it veers on the edge of experimental theatre to the extent that it becomes meaningless. As with every Shakespearian school text that offers crib notes to decodify the cryptic language, the audience of macbeth.slapeloos would benefit from footnotes.
The greatest irony of the night was that, for a play named slapeloos, there were a significant number of people who were fast asleep in their seats before the first hour had passed. If you are a die-hard fan of Shakespeare or interested in the academics of hearing Eitemal’s brilliant translation into Afrikaans, macbeth.slapeloos is an experience to be enjoyed for its raw uniqueness. But if you are looking for an exciting and entertaining night at the theatre, perhaps give this one a skip.
macbeth.slapeloos runs at the Baxter Theatre 4 to 21 February 2015.