BWW Review: MACBETH is Still Essential Theater, Despite the Disarray
Manila, Philippines - Shakespeare's works are classics, and there's a reason why they have stood the test of time. Just recently, the embattled UK-based Shakespeare Rose Theatre was about to make its international debut by staging Macbeth and A Midsummer Night's Dream in Manila. However, it was suddenly canceled. This November, Manila-based Theatre Titas boldly stages a local production of Macbeth, directed by Carlos Cariño.
In theory, Macbeth has all the themes that will make it appealing: murder, loyalty, betrayal, and fate. It even has witches, which keeps things interesting. However, the difficulty with performing a Shakespearean classic in its original text is how to get the story through to the audience and make its meaning clear.
It's no secret that Shakespeare's writing often requires several read-throughs before grasping its meaning, so it's even more difficult to understand it after hearing it spoken once. In Theatre Titas' Macbeth, some members of the ensemble struggle speaking Shakespeare's words with clarity and meter, or even conviction. For those who do not have prior knowledge about the story of Macbeth, it can be very hard to understand what is happening in the play.
In watching the play, the first thought would be about the obvious desire to show Macbeth differently from its countless portrayals, as shown by the simple stage to the punk costumes.
The choice for the costumes is questionable: choosing to go for plaid, leather, and various sheer fabric. It's coherent in the sense that the characters' costumes are obviously of a similar theme, but it looks a bit disorganized onstage. Although you can see the vision in portraying the bloodlust and violence within the play, it just doesn't create much of an impact and almost takes away the attention from the story itself.
In contrast, the bare set design is executed effectively, making use of set pieces that could easily be transformed into another thing. The emptiness of the stage makes it very actor-centric, which is essential for a Shakespearean play after all. It's also very intimate, with the audience being very close to the action.
Tarek El Tayech in the titular role is very compelling, portraying Macbeth's descent into madness well. Having his hair reflect his state of insanity is particularly smart, and it helps the audience understand his inner instability. He draws attention, not just because his character is the protagonist but for the reason that he is sure of himself and his role. There's no hesitation and no holding back, which is what you'd expect from a character like Macbeth.
For a character such as Lady Macbeth, Issa Litton's performance begs for more guile and ruthlessness. Her take on the character as a loving wife supportive of her husband's goals comes through, but it doesn't hold enough power. Her character is just as iconic as Macbeth himself, yet she does not leave much of an impression. Still, some of her scenes are entertaining, most especially the banquet scene, which comes off as comedic.
Miguel Vasquez's performance as Macduff is attention-grabbing. Among the cast, it is his delivery that makes Shakespeare's words clearest, fully understanding the reason for his wrath. His portrayal of the role is convincing and powerful, and his fight scene with Macbeth is worth the watch.
The directorial choice to add more witches to the original three and have some of them always present throughout the play is a good one. Their presence gives that feeling of impending trouble, which asks whether destiny can be changed or only acted out - the ultimate question of free will. Despite being part of a group, Jeremy Mendoza and Aylli Cortez stand out and their performances are distinctive from the others.
Theatre Titas' Macbeth acknowledges the need to change the approach in staging Shakespeare's works in today's time. However, it doesn't convey what they are trying to accomplish. There are a lot of good elements, but it's a little chaotic overall.
Even if the company changed the appearance of some characters and the setting for several scenes, to learn more about the cultural impact of Shakespeare's work, this Macbeth is still worth watching.
Presented by Theatre Titas, Macbeth plays the Power Mac Center Spotlight at Ayala Malls Circuit in Makati now through 23 November 2019.
Photos: David Paman