Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Review of KLSP's SHAKESPEARE DEMYSTIFIED: MACBETH: Engaging and Explanatory

May 29, 2018

From May 28-30, 2018, the Asian Shakespeare Association, an organization dedicated to researching, producing, teaching, translating, and promoting Shakespeare from an Asian perspective, is holding their 3rd Biennial Conference in Manila. Aside from panel sessions, seminars, workshops and screenings, there are also theater performances (with Q&A sessions with the director) scheduled. 

One of them is "Shakespeare Demystified: Macbeth" by the KL Shakespeare Players from Malaysia, performed today at 4 pm in UP Diliman. Since 2011, the KLSP is a theater company in Malaysia that focuses only on Shakespeare’s works. Their signature Shakespeare Demystified series target young audiences. In order to keep them interested in the play, the Players judiciously cut the play short enough (this "Macbeth" was only 110 minutes with a 10 minute intermission) and incorporate explanatory narration in modern English, while still maintaining key scenes in their original text. 

Director Lim Kien Lee demonstrates his Tibetan singing bowl,
as actor Zul Zamir looks on.

The director Lim Kien Lee was also the musician, seated on one side of stage, with his various instruments (like a djembe drum, a Tibetan singing bowl, a thunder-maker drum) on hand to create the mood and tension in the various scenes. 

Once the play started, the five actors never left the stage almost the entire time. They sat on monobloc chairs upstage, waiting for their next cue to enter. Their props and costumes (mostly scarves of different colors) are right there onstage beside their seats. The ensemble acting effort of this multiracial cast was amazing to behold as the actors seamlessly shifted in and out of different characters, plus being narrators to boot.

Macbeth was played by Lim Soon Heng. He may have been the most senior member of the cast, but his energy was electric and his stage presence was very strong as he essayed Macbeth's descent into mad ambition and tyranny. The delivery of his lines was flawless and clear at all times. Lady Macbeth (also Lady McDuff, First Witch and Fleance) was played by Safia Hanifah. She nailed Lady Macbeth's sleepwalking scene with that chilling soliloquy about the spot on her hands. Her beautiful singing voice was highlighted when Lady McDuff sang a sorrowful lullaby. 

Nave VJ, Safia Hanifah and Ivan Chan in one of their clarificatory scenes.

McDuff and Banquo were played by Zul Zamir. This actor with long hair (which he tied up in a bun as McDuff) delivered on the anguish and anger of his characters. King Duncan (also Ross, Third Witch, Murderer and Messenger) was played by Ivan Chan. This tall bearded fellow was a very lively physical actor. Malcolm (as well as Second Witch, Murderer, and Young McDuff) were played by Nave VJ. This darker-skinned actor had a clear resonating voice which he can delineate the characters he played.

Since I knew the story of Macbeth very well, I knew what was going on even if there were times I did not catch clearly what was being said. Mostly, the shrill cackling voice quality assumed by the witches was not too easy to understand. It was in those scenes that I really appreciated the explanatory narratives woven into the main text. I noted that these were the same explanations I was giving my daughter the first time she watched Macbeth. These clarifying interludes definitely could hook those unfamiliar with Shakespeare into the story.

Q&A session with director and cast after the show
(L-R Ivan Chan, Safia Hanifah, Nave VJ, Lim Soon Heng, Lim Kien Lee, Zul Zamir)

I wish one day I could catch their Demystified performances of "Othello," "Julius Caesar" or "Merchant of Venice," which I had never seen performed live before. Like the "Macbeth" I just saw, I am sure these other plays will also be as engaging and interesting because of their clear abridged text and enlightening side commentary. Be that as it may though, I know the essential spirit of Shakespeare's story does not get distilled, thanks to the focused direction and impressive acting.

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