February 22, 2007, by Peter Kirwan
Macbeth (Work–In–Progress) (Song of the Goat Theatre) @ The Swan Theatre
You’ll note that I’ve included the fact this production was a work-in-progress in the title to this entry. I feel (along with the RSC, who’ve made this prominent from the start) that it’s important to highlight this, as anyone expecting a full production of ‘Macbeth’ this evening would have been sorely disappointed.
Tonight’s presentation was a collage of sequences and images produced through the research that Polish company Teatr Piesn Kozla (Song Of The Goat Theatre) have done into ‘Macbeth’. The finished play, the programme tells us, is planned to be performed on April 19th 2008. I can say with no reservation that I’m booking my seat as soon as possible, because if in three months they’ve managed to produce something as beautiful as they did this evening, with another 14 months work it should be something truly special.
Director Grzegorz Bral spoke to us between the various sequences, explaining the processes that the company go through. Their work is heavily rooted in music, mostly that of dying cultures and vanishing traditions, and physical interaction with the space. The productions they come up with are totally self-devised ensemble pieces, with the work growing out of the ongoing research they do into the play.
I could write for ages about the different images and soundscapes they created in the 90 minutes they presented, yet I couldn’t really do it justice. The very first scene alone left me wanting to give a standing ovation. The cast entered to sit on a semi-circle of thrones, and started a low humming, with a female cast member singing low cadences over, as they gradually grew in volume. Lady Macbeth and Macbeth in turn rose and walked round the circle, giving two speeches from different parts of the play, before the entire cast started rhythmically singing Shakespeare’s words, rising to an enormous climax before suddenly stopping dead. The power of this scene, which went on for ages yet never got boring, is impossible to describe in words- you’d have to hear it for yourself.
As the evening progressed, they took us through their experiments with polyphony (the creation of harmonies out of a multitude of individual vocal movements) to those with movement. Actors shadowed each other, tumbled, ran, jumped, always moving with an especially light step and fluidity of movement. For the Macduff/Malcolm scene in England, four mats were brought out and as Macduff, Malcolm and Ross spoke, exchanged news and mourned the deaths of Macduff’s family, the three men continually somersaulted and tumbled over each other, crossing paths and speaking as they flipped. The athleticism and co-ordination of the actors alone deserves mention.
This praise may sound superlative, and I should qualify the whole thing by emphasising that this was far from a complete production. Presented out of sequence, out of context and without any links between the different frames, it’s impossible to say how this will look in the future. In many ways, this was pure rehearsal, actors coming up with thoughts and images without having to worry about the larger context of the play, in a similar way to how Cheek By Jowl worked with the MA group last term when starting to conduct their research into ‘Cymbeline’. Considering how far away we are from the final production, however, what was shown tonight was deeply moving, fascinating, visually stimulating and exciting, and its reception by the Swan audience was astounding. The theatre was almost full, and the audience, to my surprise, absolutely loved it. I honestly thought people would be disappointed that it was only a work-in-progress, but the beauty of what we were shown seemed to override any reservations people may have had. Stunning.