Out of Joint (Touring Production)
not every day that a trip to the theatre begins with a trudge through the nippy
night air into the dusty loading bay of an old mill in deepest darkest Batley.
Nor is it usual to have your ticket is checked by sinister individuals wearing sunglasses and army fatigues, who demand photographic ID and bark at you to hurry up.
But then again, Out of Joint isn't your average touring theatre company.
Director and founder Max Stafford-Clark has a reputation for the unconventional - and this promenade production is about as far removed from a traditional evening among the over 50s and their tubs of ice cream as you are likely to get.
Macbeth is known widely as 'the Scottish play' and on initial reflection it seems a little odd this production should be set in Africa. This becomes less troublesome, though, when you consider the main themes of Shakespeare's shortest tragedy; civil war, genocide and corruption.
You only have to look at Rwanda and Sierra Leone in the 1990s, Liberia in the late 1980s, Uganda in the 1970s and, more recently, Sudan, to see the glaring parallels.
It's also well documented that infamous Ugandan leader Idi Amin had a fascination with all things Caledonian. His enthusiasm was such that he even learned to play the bagpipes and decked some of his soldiers out in kilts.
On this first leg of the tour, the production commenced in a large, dark and dusty room within Batley's Redbrick Mill, which is primarily a place to buy tasteful home furnishings.
As the audience filed in, freshly harassed by the shifty characters manning the entrance, around one dozen actors began to sing, beat a variety of instruments and dance. The African rhythm rumbled to a crescendo, a witchdoctor flailed his arms and sinister shadows licked against bare brick walls and piles of junk.
Having never previously read or seen this play, I was baffled by the French dialogue used by the witches in the opening scenes.
In fact, the famous sorcerers frequently revert to Gallic tongue in this Stafford-Clark interpretation, reflecting the fact French is the first language in many parts of Africa. But as someone who believes theatre should be accessible to everyone - not just those who have studied a play or excel at a foreign language - this proved annoying and frustrating in the extreme.
Following the opening exchanges, the Batley audience was ushered into another large room that contained an array of benches and chairs arranged around a square performance space.
But alas with characters hollering from all corners of the arena - some in thick French accents - words were readily lost and understanding hindered.
The performances are reasonable enough. Danny Sapani, as Macbeth, is probably the pick of the bunch, although he lacks the powerful persona of a monarch. But all-too-often the cast simply pour out their lines sans passion and physical expression.
When real emotion is called for, melodrama usually ensues. At times you wonder whether the actors actually understand the meaning of the Shakespearean verse they are delivering.
For several very surreal minutes, the play is dragged kicking and screaming into the modern world. On his way to answer a knock at the door, Seyton (Christopher Ryman) engages the audience on Microsoft Windows and the Internet. This bizarre interlude went several thousands feet above my head, narrowly missing a passing Boeing 747.
The promenade style does work very well in some places. At one stage the audience is ushered to join a banquet with the characters and served with wine and food, which sucks you right into the high drama that unfolds.
But at other times it is downright distracting and prevents the production from settling into any rhythm and flow. Through the performance characters bark lines from all angles, necessitating a twisting and craning of the neck and body that quickly becomes too much like hard work.
At just over two hours long without an interval, this performance is probably best suited to those who already know the text. As someone unfamiliar with the play, I can tell you absolutely nothing about the content or significance of the final speech.
Sure, the thumping drums and blaring Scottish pipes are dramatic and stirring.
But the fact they
drown every word of the closing lines of this most famous play leads me to
conclude that style has fought out a rather messy victory over substance.
Copyright J A Waddington 2004. For syndication rights, please email.
STUFF TO BUY:
Polanski's Macbeth DVD 
Macbeth DVD 
McKellen's Macbeth DVD 
GCSE Video Revision Notes DVD
Macbeth  DVD
(Sir Alec Guinness) Audiobook CD
BBC Radio 3 Dramatisation CDs
Baxendale's Macbeth  DVD
Brett's Macbeth  DVD
live at the Zurich Opera House DVD
Macbeth Study CD-Roms
Notes on Macbeth
(New Cambridge Shakespeare)
Notes Advanced: Macbeth
Made Easy: Macbeth
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