Staged with its characters in elaborate Chinese opera costumes, Chin San Sooi‘s Macbeth is a feast for the sight.
Each male character in the play has a heavily-detailed outfit which denotes his status. Designed by Cantonese opera maestro Choy Him Heong, the costumes are the true stars of the show.
They flow magnificently and they dazzle under San Sooi’s own simple lighting design. There are little details on each piece that arrest the attention; Macbeth’s clothes are red with gold embroidery while his headpiece comes with little attachments that kinetically mirror his own energy. The other characters also have colour-coordinated garments just as intricate, which help distinguish each character.
Underlying the spectacle is an epic soundscape which centers around the clever use of a Chinese drum. This simple and versatile instrument did most of the work in creating an atmosphere.
There’s a lot of ambiance emanating from the stage that will keep audiences entertained for a while, until the big whammy hits:
Underneath the production’s stunning veneer lies its Shakespearean script in its full glory. San Sooi’s staging of Macbeth utilises the original text. While an acceptable ratio of its actors were more or less capable in reciting English of yore, a few of them struggled and couldn’t connect with the words they were uttering.
At times, lines were buried under vocal affectation and this was particularly apparent from the very beginning, through Pearlly Chua‘s take on the three witches. Despite being a marvellous sight, it was tough to catch a lot of the words.
And that is the biggest problem with Macbeth; it’s just not easily understood. The huge amount of effort put into trying to receive information tired viewers quickly. Those in attendance started giving up – most were fidgeting in their seats half an hour into the show.
However, one look at Chin San Sooi’s great career puts doubts concerning his choices to rest. It is worth noting that San Sooi was the one who directed the world premiere of Emily of Emerald Hill. He followed up with hugely successful runs of the show with muse Pearlly throughout the 90s and the 00s.
In fact, Kakiseni recently named San Sooi a ‘Tokoh Seni’, one of five veterans responsible for shaping our nation’s performing arts scene.
Macbeth feels like a demonstration of San Sooi’s status and acclaim in the theatre scene; he’s earned his place and time to experiment with art and this staging feels like one of those experiments. He even makes an appearance in the show as the Thane of Lennox.
In the programme book, San Sooi notes that he has staged Macbeth before but he has long wanted to do it with Chinese Opera costumes. And this is exactly what audiences get: the original Macbeth in some very exquisite Chinese Opera costumes.
‘Macbeth’ ran from 2 April to 12th April at the Damansara Performing Arts Centre.