Julien Balajas’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth is more of a miss than a hit. And it could have been a hit. There is much to like: a pacey new French translation, some competent performances and good stage movement. The ultimate failure of this show is due to mixing too many theatre aesthetics and stage practices and some badly timed comedy which diminish solid dramatic performances by charming and talented actors David Furlong and Antonia Desplat in the roles of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.
Watching the 70-minute show the spectator may have a problem deciphering the director’s intentions. His Macbeth becomes at times a panto, for example, in an ill-judged scene with the three witches (wearing night vision goggles and black leotards) dancing to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Killing of Banquo is thus reduced to a pop refrain: ‘You know it’s thriller, thriller night, You’re fighting for your life inside a killer, thriller tonight’. At other times it is Macbeth: ‘a swashbuckler story’ with period costumes and sword fights which have light comic bravado to them without any sense of danger or drama.
What I enjoyed most is hearing Macbeth in French in an interesting, both punchy and dialogic, new translation which skipped lengthy soliloquies. The new text allows for a more gritty engaging style of performance and this has not been taken advantage of. Symbolic violence and barely discernible sexuality in the relationship of the leading couple weaken the overall concept and the power of the condensed script.
I would like to see more ‘filmic cuts’ (there are some scenes towards the end with the use of fades) and more commitment to the use of new media (voiceover, projections) and discarding of the period costumes and sword fights. Making it thoroughly modern production with an urban setting, contemporary clothing and more convincing use of technology would make for a more coherent concept that would go together with the swift new translation purged of speeches. Instead we have mounting incongruities made even more obvious by often flood lit stage where all is exposed and the fourth wall non-existent.
I like to think of this often dramatically effective production as work in progress. Given a chance to rehearse and perform more (the production had only two showings) with additional focus on modernisation and coherence of the stage concept Balajas’s group of young talented multi-national actors would be able to deliver a fresh and relevant adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.