April seems to have a Shakespearean flavour running through it with several of the Bard’s plays being performed across the Klang Valley. Among them is Macbeth, helmed by veteran playwright and director Chin San Sooi.
Comprising a mixed cast of established and fresh actors, this play is currently showing at Theatre, DPac (2 – 12 April) and already has several sell out shows for its weekend runs. It also marks the second time Chin has staged Macbeth, one of most beloved Shakespearen tragedies.
What immediately sets this production of Macbeth apart is Chin’s decision to clothe his actors in Chinese Opera costumes and make-up. The actors are to perform in full costumes, yet speak the original Shakespearean dialogue.
Some might be skeptical and quick to denounce it as a gimmick, but I was immediately intrigued by the idea of it. How would the play fit together? Two seemingly contrasting theatrical practices with their own unique elements were now being presented as one. Would it work? Oddity aside, this play certainly promises to be a visually arresting feast for the eyes.
Macbeth kicked off with the entrance of the three witches. Performed by Pearlly Chua (of Stella Kon’s Emily of Emerald Hill fame), green light shines sinisterly onto the stark stage as she moves about in her role. With one puppet head on each hand and a brown, stockinged mask pulled over her head, Pearlly becomes the three witches and convincingly embodied her roles. She switches her voice deftly as each “head” takes on a personality, making it utterly enjoyable to watch her character despite its lack of facial features.
Cheong Chee Yoong as Macbeth delivered his lines well. His soliloquies were strong and one of the best parts of the entire play. He had me believing in his arrogance and pompousness completely. Alfred Loh also gave a worthy performance as Macduff, Thane of Fife, palpable with anguish at losing his family and his final thirst for revenge.
Accompanied by the gongs, cymbals and drums familiar from Chinese Opera shows, the beats signify crucial moments and turn of events during the play. Aside from that, the Chinese costumes were truly spectacular in their designs and colours. Each one denotes a rank and fit right into the hierarchical obsessions of the play.
While I initially found the match of costumes and dialogue awkward at the start, it seemed very natural towards the end. Accustomed to watching Chinese Opera with their high pitched voices and theatrics, I expected some form of Chinese dialect to be spoken. But as I settled into the play, the antiquity of the language felt like it matched up to the resplendence and time of those costumes.
However, at 180 minutes long, the play felt like it needed more than costumes. Unfortunately, it did feel slightly jarring and occasionally uncomfortable to sit through due to the different intonations and enunciation of the Shakespearean dialogue by the actors. The lines were not spoken clearly and seemed jumbled up at times, which made some of the play difficult to follow.
All in all, Chin’s Macbeth provided for an interesting take on a old time classic. Although it fell short at certain aspects of delivery, it was still memorable in its attempt at creating a rejuvenating mash-up of cultures between Chinese opera and a well know Shakespearan tragedy.
Happening this month: artACT! at MAP, Publika
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