Macbeth: ASF’s Leather and Spikes

By on 28 January, 2013 in Art, Fun, Kate and Stephen with 0 Comments

Lady MacBeth freaks out

Even though it was January, the warm weather reminded us of the last time we’d seen Macbeth out at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. That time we’d been in the garden in summer, watching ASF’s intern class perform their shortened-for-classrooms version of the classic tragedy about fate, kilts and lust for power. This time, we wore something a little nicer for the premier of ASF’s new production, held indoors on the main stage. We weren’t sure what to expect, except that one of us vaguely knew that this version of Macbeth was supposed to be a post-apocalyptic-type setting.

This much seems to be true, although there’s no attempt to hint at what apocalypse might have occurred. Evidently it left England, Ireland and Scotland intact as sovereign entities, stocked with plenty of bedazzlers for attaching metal studs to various items of leather clothing. This unseen apocalyptic event also seems to have eliminated electricity and guns, but kept intact the outdated gender roles and the basic thrumming of human frailties that have always animated Macbeth. Also there are still tartans, if not kilts – the costume designers cleverly preserve the clan identifiers as a type of cape. None of this threw us off. First, we’ve seen a little pro wrestling in our day, so we figured we were familiar with the source material. Second, we’re fans of the Mad Max franchise. Though we couldn’t resist some of the obvious quips (“Which one’s Master and which one’s Blaster?” “Two kings enter, one king leaves!”) from those movies (and even searched out this delightful video the next day to our great amusement), we found ourselves settling in to the suspension of disbelief. Just know that if you are thinking about going to see this version, MacBeth and associates will be dressed like members of Raider Nation crossed with The Jacksons from the music video for “Torture.”

Interestingly, when we go to ASF productions we often find ourselves leaving most impressed with the stagecraft and lighting. This production challenges the audience by stripping much of that out. There are few props, and the set itself is a spare series of ramps and platforms with a few “post apocalyptic” candle holders for basic lighting. This leaves a heavy burden on the cast, who have to work hard to sell this featureless future at the same time they are embodying some of literature’s most well-known and tortured characters.

Macbeth himself is a large man with a shaved head, a shiny shirt, wallet chains (Do they really carry wallets after the apocalypse?) and an ammo belt. He would not seem entirely out of place as a mixed martial artist or a character in one of one of those reality shows where Southern people hunt and cook things. Lady Macbeth’s more punk rock aesthetic fits her ambition – she comes across clearly as a creature trapped by her gender and pushing her otherwise bumbling-but-heroic man to do some horrible things. The others are much as you would expect – Macduff is noble (and evokes Deadpool), Duncan seems kind and generous (although cursed with a questionable hairstyle), and Banquo’s hair … well, it’s probably not as it was styled at the Globe, but there’s not a thing wrong with that.

Even after the apocalypse (or whatever), there are still class markers, although rich monarchs seem to have a lot in common with average Scottish peasants. The single shoulder pad, the extravagantly buckled boot, the steampunk goggles — these are evidently the markers that evolved in times of great scarcity as part of a rugged fashion of necessity. Some English accents were lost in the apocalypse, others survived. Computers were de-developed, but a few characters kept binoculars and at least one telescope.

If you ask the average person about their favorite part of MacBeth, more than half would likely say the witches (you know, the three gals with the double trouble and toiling and troubling). The post-apocalyptic version of the “weird sisters” is gymnastic, but the actual original fortune telling comes across as a bit muddy. Since MacBeth’s freakout about his ambition and destiny is launched by his encounter with these prophets, the presentation should especially emphasize the details of their forecasts.

Another supernatural bit is well-handled though. Zombie Banquo? Well-played.

There are other great moments in this production. The swordplay is first-class and seems genuinely brutal. They’re swinging hard and the clank of metal evokes a primal appreciation. The staging is inventive, given the minimalist styling. And, in what we think is really the marker of a good production, it made us think (and talk) a lot about the play. We’re still talking about it the next day, thinking about what we liked and didn’t like, whose performances were great, what wonderful language some of the speeches feature, and how the wrenching out of time creates a kind of perspective by incongruity that just might have, after we got over all the leather and spikes, helped us to better understand one of the greatest plays ever written.

Bottom line: This take on MacBeth is a worthwhile use of your limited entertainment dollars, even if you’re dead set (as we are) on seeing ASF’s production of “To Kill a Mockingbird” when it opens in early March. Another of Shakespeare’s classics launches that month too, in the form of Twelfth Night.”

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a cat, a dog, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.


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