REVIEW: Tanghalang Pilipino's "Macbeth" in multimedia

Macbeth in multimedia 
By Walter Ang
October 11, 2000
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Macbeth does not wear a kilt in this version by Tanghalang Pilipino. Director Chris Millado and designer Salvador Bernal's concept and design is what's most fun about this production. The audience comes into the CCP's studio theater to see a backdrop of red cloth gently rippling like a waterfall of blood and an acting area filled with sand. Very stark, very Zen ? and that's only the beginning of this production's Asian themes.

Transplanted away from Scotland, it is an amalgamation of various Asian theater forms. There is Japanese, Chinese, and shades of Indian influence in the costumes, make-up, movement, and choreography. Actors wear costumes, headdresses, and make up inspired by Kabuki theater and Chinese opera. Instead of swords, warriors combat with fans.

Just as Chinese and Japanese drama puts emphasis on every step and every hand movement (for example, if an actor starts walking with literally the wrong foot, it can reveal flaws in his character) this version utilizes stylized movement and action. Words are spoken not just by the mouth, but also by the hands. As such, it is only fitting that Macbeth and Senyora Macbeth are portrayed by two of the country's well known ballet dancers, Nonoy Froilan and Edna Vida, respectively.

While both performers certainly look their parts, their strength lies chiefly in their ability to move their bodies. They establish a strong presence the moment they appear onstage. One readily notes a difference in the way the two principals moved compared to the rest of the cast. Froilan and Vida do not just merely cross the stage, they glide. Their movements are graceful, deliberate, and powerful. It was inredible to watch them physicalize the inner workings of their characters.

This stylized approach is certainly an interesting take on this Shakespearean tale of prophecy, murder, and guilt. One feels, however, the grand action and some fight scenes might have been better suited for a bigger acting area rather than the small studio theater. The marching scenes when the army troops congregate are especially impressive and would have looked wonderful from afar.

If this play were performed in a bigger area, the only drawback would be the loss of immediacy the small venue provides. If there were a great distance between the actors and the audience, we would not have experienced hearing and feeling the sand move whenever the actors paraded onstage. More exciting were the battle scenes. It was a sight to behold, the actors in their flowing costumes and grand headdresses, fans flapping about and sand flying in all directions. An occasional shriek here and there from ladies in the audience would pepper some of the combat scenes as they shielded their faces from the flying sand.

Done in Tagalog translation by Rolando Tinio, another interesting aspect was the way the three witches were portrayed. I was half expecting to see mangkukulam type women with wild hair and noses with carbuncles, or perhaps Japanese fox spirits with jet black hair and pale white faces. Instead, director Millado presents them as "angels of History", not the Catholic kind, but with "winds of Paradise caught in their wings flying backwards into the future, surveying the debris of the Past."

It was fun to hear the witch's chants and curses done in Tagalog. Their role as surveyors of the past was reinforced with a video projection of humanity's past atrocities (images of Hitler, Stalin and world wars) as they prophesized Macbeth's death.

The youth of today who try to get a thrill out of multimedia computer games should get out of those chairs and experience what real "multimedia" feels like. No cartoon show or Playstation role playing game could possibly deliver the same level of excitement of a live performance. Nor the creepiness evoked by rows and rows of death idols flanking the sides of the stage, high above in raised towers, watching over the audience . Watch out also the coronation ceremony of Macbeth; a fantastically eerie ritual.

Fans of anime such as Samurai X will find this production appealing with its Japanese themes and warrior sensibility. After all, if some anime shows can deliver nuances such as honor and guilt so eloquently, it would be an interesting change to see it live. Lights, sounds, fight scenes, costumes, flying sand, emotions ? now is that multimedia or is that multimedia?

For schedule, call Tanghalang Pilipino at 832-3661 or 812-1125 loc.1620.