Presented by the graduating class of the National Theatre School of Canada, Macbeth après Muller is the adaptation of the translated text of Heiner Müller’s controversial and provocative 1970s interpretation of Shakespeare’s classical tragedy. Opened last night at Monument National on Boulevard St. Laurent, the crowds were lined up and spilling outside the gates well before the 8 pm show.
Müller is considered one of the most influential European dramatists of the modern age. He engaged with Shakespeare on multiple occasions: Hamlet, Titus Andronicus and also Macbeth. Through his lifetime Müller had a controversial relationship with his native East German State and his peers. A known Socialist, he was a product of his socio-political leanings and also inspired himself by texts of other writers. Müller saw other people’s work as breeding ground for evolving ideas and thus used them constantly through interpretation and adaptation.
His view (and adaptation) of Macbeth is a very grassroots; class-politics driven narrative of the fight for power and the naked inhumanity of continuous human greed and ambition. He speaks to the plight of the masses, as the rich sit conspiring to outmanoeuver one another. His version of Macbeth also has no room for pre-determination (as symbolized by the three Witches), and is a rather scathing commentary of the excesses of the elite and the suppression of the poor. With this politically charged text as a background, National Theatre School of Canada resident director Sylvian Belanger attempts to bring to us a modern take to this 16th century classic tragedy.
Belanger introduces us to an interesting setting. The lack of any 16th century costumes, palaces, doors and aesthetics aside, all our characters are dressed in smart, sharp business suits and the props are plainly stylized. This represents the comfort of the ‘elite’ in the struggle for power and control of the Scottish throne.
Macbeth is returning from battle after a successful campaign. He rides the wave of popularity as a war decorated general, but with his victory comes the desire for more. Maxim Pare-Fortin plays Macbeth with great passion. He will conspire and plot to make his desires a reality and following the original text of the play, plot to kill King Duncan. His co-actors (especially Banquo played by Nicolas Centeno) are competent in their interpretations of the characters.
From the outset, the engagement with the audience was rather professorial, a monologue that is broken into sporadically by different characters. It’s jarring and doesn’t allow for a deep engagement with the narrative. But true to Muller’s style of sociological discourse, the characters seem to use the medium of monologues to speak to the plight of the exploited and the mindless squander that surrounds.
The highlight of the play remains the three witches, played competently by Mare-Andree Lemieux, Sofia Blodin and Rebecca Vachon. While definitely more contemporary in their style and substance, they didn’t lose the eerie dread that the Witches of Macbeth are meant to exude.
The play suffers from the lack of fluidity of its actors, as people march on and off stage in a huff, their shoes stomping meaningless noise. Live performances need to always be crafted to not leave the audience distracted and disoriented by players walking in and out of scenes. But the action remains eventful enough that by the time Macbeth’s lunacy becomes demonstrable, I was pretty used to switching between monologues and histrionics.
The last bit of kudos to the very interesting interplay of backstage music, as different players withdrew from the main action sporadically to lend music to the performance. I thought that was quite an interesting touch. All in all a passable take on Müller’s deviations.
Macbeth d’après Müller is at the Monument National (1182 St Laurent) until October 31. Thursday and Friday show at 8 p.m., Saturday show at 3 p.m. Click HERE. Pay what you think on the way out (PWYT?).