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August 13, 2012 5:20 pm
Conceptually, Grzegorz Jarzyna’s relocation of Macbeth to the contemporary Middle East makes no sense whatever – the western occupying forces there are not particularly known for bloody factional disputes. In any case, the indigenous population makes only two brief appearances here, as a domestic servant and as a rebel leader decapitated by Macbeth in the opening scene. Yes, it is an environment of extreme and sometimes gratuitous violence, but hardly unique in that respect. Other than serving as a pretext for incorporating modern ordnance and video technology, this aspect of the cerebral side of the production is a washout.
Nevertheless, Jarzyna’s TR Warszawa company has opened the theatrical side of this year’s Edinburgh International Festival with an almighty bang – several, in fact. If I felt the blast of flame from one explosion, seated as I was at the opposite side of Row Q in Lowland Hall, Lord knows how infernal it must have been to those located in the same postal district.
The vast venue is required not primarily for pyrotechnics but for a three-storey staging with ramparts, war room and even a laundry in various areas of the panoramic set. To judge by the surtitles, Jarzyna has retained a number of Shakespeare’s original turns of phrase while generally modernising the script. Out go scenes such as Malcolm’s pretence at wickedness, out even go the slaughter of Macduff’s family and the invading army dressing up as trees. The witches are collapsed into the single figure of Hecate, who both delivers the prophecies and then reappears as a Mephistophelean “Doctor” commenting upon Lady Macbeth’s now-waking madness.
At the centre of the maelstrom is Cezary Kosinski’s stone-faced Macbeth, seldom if ever palpably in control of his own conduct even when perfunctorily shooting dead an unsatisfactory messenger or thug. Jarzyna’s production may not set the action in a location that is coherent from a real-world perspective, but its psychogeography is gripping. Forces greater than any man, greater even than any army, buffet the current of events one way and another; the supernatural portents in the original play are (with the exception of Hecate and the inevitable Seyton/Satan punning) replaced by 21st-century weaponry, helicopter air strikes and the like. And Macbeth, of course, pays the ultimate price for not having formulated an exit strategy.
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