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Teatr Muzyczny Capitol

The universality of William Shakespeare’s plays was already recognized by his contemporaries. Ben Johnson believed that the Bard’s poetry is “not of an age, but for all time”. This claim holds true right up to now with numerous theatre practitioners adapting the Elizabethan dramas—including Macbeth—in novel ways. Many, for instance, set the events within the contemporary socio-political context, emphasizing the Scottish Play’s topicality.

With so many Macbeths taking place on either contemporary or even futuristic military fronts, you may think that a more medieval staging would have little to offer a present-day spectator. But you would be grossly mistaken, and Agata-Duda Gracz is here to put you right. In her latest Shakespearean production, the Polish director paints a picture of bloodbathed 11th century Scotland. Here the depravity and ruthlessness of men is visible not only in battle but also in their relationships with women, most of whom suffer the cruel fate of rape and death.

The harshness of this world is further emphasized by the visual aspects of the performance: the austere set design and the strong lighting. The former is comprised of nothing more than a large square podium which, raised and lowered multiple times, becomes a sloped platform from which the characters continuously slide throughout the performance. The sharp, often vividly red or blue light not only draws attention to the blood-like stains on the platform but also creates an atmosphere of overwhelming menace. Looking at the unusual set design and lighting enriched with group choreography, oftentimes performed on an almost vertical surface, one cannot help but be reminded of a medieval panel painting, one depicting an appalling human tragedy.

The most excruciating part of this theatrical image is the intensity with which Duda-Gracz paints the dreadful destiny which no man, neither rich nor poor, can ever avoid. The inescapability of fate is best seen in Macbeth himself (Cezary Studniak) who remains seated in a single illuminated spot onstage throughout the entire duration of the performance. But the striking stillness of Macbeth does not make him dull; on the contrary, Studniak manages to portray the Thane in the full complexity of the human mental condition and, as a result, captivates the spectator’s attention until the very last moment.

The most outstanding aspect of the production, however, is the supernatural, embodied by the three weird sisters and Hecate. Justyna Antoniak, Agnieszka Oryńska-Lesicka, and Helena Sujecka are flawless as the sullen messengers born out of female suffering. But it is Emose Uhunmwango who ultimately steals the show. With black eyes, large wings, and blood streaming down her chest, her Hecate is the truly fearsome evil goddess who has a hold over all onstage characters. Even as I am writing this review a couple of days after watching Macbeth I find myself hearing her poignant songs in my head.

I have the impression that calling a theatrical production “traditional” nowadays sounds almost like an insult. Yet there is something surprisingly classical in Duda-Gracz’s approach to the Scottish Play. It makes watching her production extremely pleasurable, an exciting experience comparable to closely observing one of the world’s greatest masterpiece paintings.

  • Drama
  • By William Shakespeare
  • Directed by Agata Duda-Gracz
  • Cast includes: Justyna Antoniak, Magdalena Kumorek, Agnieszka Oryńska-Lesicka, Cezary Studniak, Helena Sujecka, Emose Uhunmwango
  • Teatr Muzyczny Capitol

About The Author

Reviewer (Poland)

Aleksandra Pytko is a PhD student at the Department of Studies in Culture at Adam Mickiewicz University's Faculty of English. Her interests revolve around Polish contemporary theatre and postdramatic theatre. She is currently preparing her PhD dissertation on Polish theatrical adaptations of Hamlet produced after 1999. Outside of the academia, she is a big fan of glitter, sequins, and techno-rock music.

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