On a damp Wednesday night, Kuala Lumpur’s Performing Arts Centre (KLPAC) presented a production by KL Shakespeare Players. Parking was fickle business but once we got that sorted, we got ourselves comfy with drinks to warm us up. Waiting for the doors to Pentas 2 to open, my friends noted that they have not seen a version or adaptation of tonight’s play. The Shakespeare Demystified series has been running for a few years now but tonight the thespians are acting out Shakespeare’s tragedy, Macbeth. With ticket prices going from RM45 to RM55, I was excited to see if the play is going to be enjoyable.
As we enter the stage, there was no extravagant castle or thrones or backdrops of Scotland. The stage was completely bare save for a person, visibly curled up under a piece of red cloth. The play starts and three actors and two actresses introduced themselves on the stage as well as delivering a brief background of the play. Being a part of the Shakespeare Demystified series, it was expected that they would have narrators explain certain scenes or dialogue while the play is going on. It did exactly that however it was clear that these ‘windows’ of narration were thought through by the director and was not awkward. When I first read a synopsis for another Shakespeare Demystified play a few years ago, my initial thought was that won’t the breakdowns in between scenes be disruptive to the flow of the play as Shakespeare’s intended it?
Well, it’s safe to say that it was executed in such a way to help the local audience enjoy a Shakespeare classic without being too overwhelmed by the language, puns and metaphors that were reflective of when it was first written. Having the cast introduce themselves in the beginning establish their roles playing the characters and the narrators as well as hint that some of these ‘windows’ will be interactive. From asking questions such as if Macbeth is truly a tragic hero to coaxing the crowd to yell “All hail Macbeth!” during the titular character’s coronation, these narrations still maintained that air of performance while not giving away too much to the audience so that the play still remains gripping.
It should also be admired that for a five-man cast playing at least 15 different characters throughout the play. In a standard production, the way to get around this was assign different costumes for different characters so the audience may make a clear distinction. This cast for this play however was decked out in the most minimal of costumes. All of the actors had black boots, black pants and a black shirt but as they go through scenes and characters, additions of hats, scarves and capes aid in jogging the audience’s’ imagination and create the distinctive characters as shown on stage in their minds. This creative choice of having not only minimal costume changes as well as set (merely a bare stage with several chairs) and props (there was not even any weapons on display, only sound effects from the actors during fight scenes) was a conscious decision so that the play will come to life through imagination. Even the music was just from a few drums and a singing bowl but the impeccable timing of the musician set the mood and emotions of several scenes very well.
The only downside of the experience I had was that this show didn’t have an intermission. It would have been nice to have a short break but being an adaptation of Shakespeare, it’s understandable for them to go ham for almost two hours straight (kudos to cast and crew for holding up that long). Furthermore, it did not do much to alter the good time I was having watching Macbeth losing his mind while seeing a ghost. And yes, there was a person in a mask with a black shroud, hovering above the audience so you can imagine being scared by the apparition but also witnessing the audience shocked gasps and bewildered eyes sweeping through the hall. This small bit was notable because yes it amused me, but also it injected life into the story so effectively, it gouged a reaction from the audience.
The brilliant acting from the cast paired with the effective directing of Lim Kien Lee, made evident by the clean choreography of transitions and fight scenes together with the heartfelt speeches delivered by Anne James and Soon Heng Lim as the Macbeths, Jit Yang’s Macduff and the three witches’ prophecies made this play a really enjoyable experience. The minimalistic set, costumes and props may seem like a shortcoming to the new but this team took that to their advantage and made it their charm. Nothing too extravagant and too distracting, making the audience and cast focus on the delivery of the performance. Needless to say, it was an enjoyable time to be able to not only watch but also experience a play being acted out by talented performers that allowed us to use our very own minds to bring the show its depth, emotions and life.