Macbeth: As Told by the Weird Sisters

(Zen Zen Zo)


This tense and imaginative version of Shakespeare’s tragedy works very well indeed. Obviously it is not a “traditional” Macbeth, but it is essentially Shakespeare’s play, as seen through a colourful and engaging prism. The “weird sisters” (as the witches are called in the text) are with us from beginning to end: they are Macbeth’s personal demons, swirling around him as he agonises and suffers the consequences of his murders, tempting him on, and ultimately destroying him. They give the evil eye to the audience and double as minor characters and extras in battle scenes, reinforcing the theme of ever-present evil.

Lighting, sound and sets combine to conjure up the theme of raw evil from the first instance of the sisters’ emergence from the darkness. The Japanese ambience through the samurai-type characters clutching bamboo staves, vivid minimalist music including drums, gongs and flutes (and a hint of the Scottish pipes!), imaginatively choreographed and executed dances and fights, exotically colourful make-up and costumes all add up to a rich theatrical experience.

The elimination or collapsing of some characters and minor reassigning of speeches is smoothly written. The most unhappy edit (for those who cherish the original) is the interaction between Macduff and Malcolm when news comes of Macduff’s family’s destruction. Macduff can’t quite carry off the truncated version on his own. On the other hand there are mimed representations of events which are off-stage in Shakespeare and which you’d normally expect to see only in a movie version Macbeth’s early victory in battle, the murder of Duncan, the coronation and the death of Macbeth. Various contextual and linking scenes are cut, including the play’s one comedic moment, the porter’s scene. Perhaps for this reason the tension is so great that the audience occasionally seeks humour in speeches that have no humorous intent.

It is good to have a youthful Lady Macbeth, but Jodie Le Vesconte seemed a little too “girlish” for the character. Perhaps this is to remind us that evil can dwell among the seemingly innocent. But her choreographed interactions with the witches are effective, reinforcing that she is essentially one of their number, and her sleepwalking scene emphasises her own tragedy. The weird sisters themselves, augmented to six (including two men) are brilliant in their energetic movement and dance, but less satisfactory at times in their delivery of their words. One particularly effective touch however is the sisters’ echoing and anticipating of Macbeth during some of his monologues.

Steve Greig carries Duncan and Macduff’s roles well, while Marcel Dorney is a most believable Banquo. His ghostly make-up is very good, as is his post-banquet appearance in the midst of the witches. Gilfedder is an outstanding Macbeth. He’s fully in command of the character and also performs well at the “physical theatre” aspects, despite being the cast’s newcomer. His focus is intense, and he is impressive in his effectively low-key treatment of the “famous” speeches like “Tomorrow and tomorrow ..”.

Zen Zen Zo succeed magnifently in their aim of presenting theatre that is vivid, exciting and energetically “physical”. This version would be an excellent introduction to Shakespeare for school kids: certainly the mainly young audience absolutely loved Saturday’s performance.

— John Henningham
(Performance seen: Fri 26th April 2002)