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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

MACBETH – THE ROCK OPERA (article first published : 2002-11-6)

William Shakespeare’s extraordinary abilities as a playwright and play maker included his masterly grasp of basic dramatic performance principles and a successful tightly-knit plot. These contribute to the fact that his works have stood the test of time and still remain sufficiently open to a wide variety of interpretations and presentations.

The latest in the Bard’s extensive list of interpretations of what superstitious theatre practitioners tend to term “The Scottish Opera” is Macbeth – The Rock Opera. Featuring original music by David Birch set to some of Shakespeare’s soliloquies, it is produced by the insightful and courageous team of actress Catherine Mace and lighting designer Michael Broderick.

Their talents are well utilised in this production which is directed by Belinda Harward and running at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre until November 17. Previously playing the role in a Kwasuka Theatre Company’s earlier schools production of the Shakespearean tragedy, Catherine again presents a fine performance as Lady Macbeth. This time as a spunky, forthright and fiercely determined rock singer.

The scenario is cleverly interpreted as a battle of the bands and the stage is cluttered with towering scaffolding offering platforms and moody dark spaces with the usual clutter of instruments, microphones and cables that go with electronically powered music these days.

The surprise of the evening is Dave Birch. Better known as the front man for the popular band Squeal, he impresses in no small manner in what is his first dramatic role. Macbeth is not an easy character to portray – he’s basically a solid citizen until the spirits (witches) start messing with his head, his wife’s driving ambition comes to the fore and he gets drunk on power. What Dave lacks in formal theatrical training and voice production, he makes up for with a searingly honest interpretation. I look forward to seeing this actor/musician in more roles in the time to come. He is also responsible for the music which is set to some of Shakespeare’s soliloquies and sonnets.

Having forsaken the “drama” stages for the pop music scene, it was good to be reminded of Kerry de Witt’s focused and spirited talents as Malcolm. Also playing a “male” role as Banquo is the cool and lack-back Belinda Henwood and Calli Denton is suitably ominous and slightly demented as one of the witches. Others in the strong cast are T-Bone Hlahane, Keseran Pillay and Colin Peddie.

Criticism of voice production is a difficult drum for me to beat because it looks like I’m touting for business but, apart from Catherine Mace, diction and articulation were not as strong as they should have been in Macbeth – The Rock Opera. Shakespeare demands that actors get their tongues around his language – however casually and simplistically they may perform his characters.

Verging on brilliance, this is one of the year’s most challenging and important theatrical productions. However, I do believe that this is not the end product and that it will develop further to achieve its full potential. If it is further worked on, I would like to see the “battle of the bands” scenario expanded a bit more and I would welcome a couple of extra numbers as the music content falls short of its “rock opera” title.

Book at Computicket. Schools block bookings through Calli Denton on 083 661-7871. – Caroline Smart




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