Macbeth is dragged screaming into the '90s

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 October, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 October, 1993, 12:00am

WHERE are the witches? This is most people's first reaction to Red Shift's radical and modern version of Macbeth. Out goes the cauldron, the rags, the tattered wigs, moaning, groaning and spell-casting. Instead the prophecies of Macbeth's rise to power are delivered by two people in the trappings of petty bureaucrats.

But then this is Red Shift, a company which over the past decade has met with critical acclaim and respect for its interpretations of classic texts and its ability to combine narrative experiments with visual impact.

Even so, there are limits. A Macbeth without witches? Isn't this wilful perversity? Director Jonathan Holloway explains it as a logical extension of the decision to make the play relevant: ''Normally in modern dress productions, as soon as the actors open their mouths, you see that the contemporary nature is a bit of cosmetic tickling on the surface, but beneath it's just a classic production.

''Ours, however, is a thoroughly modern treatment all the way through - hauling the text kicking and screaming into the late 20th century.'' So the witches had to go. This leaves Macbeth as fully responsible for his actions in a modern world which does not believe in the supernatural.

''No culture can afford to remain static,'' said Holloway.

''Societies constantly re-invent and re-interpret themselves. And so to claim there is only one way of doing a play is ridiculous.'' In this Macbeth there are no good guys - the old King Duncan and his son Malcolm are as morally bankrupt as Macbeth, and it is just one regime replacing another. ''If you create a climate of duplicity and betrayal, pretty soon you will betray yourself.'' The cast numbers just five, meaning much doubling of roles, but Holloway explains this has been done thematically so even if an audience loses track of the characters, the flow remains clear.

Holloway has been Red Shift's director throughout its 10-year history, which has seen the company rise from the fringe unknown. It has been a hard and rewarding slog.

Whether a Hong Kong audience, less knowledgeable about Shakespeare, and less experienced in the realm of director-driven interpretations, will appreciate this reassessment remains to be seen.

Holloway, Red Shift's director throughout its 10-year history, is convinced the production will be enjoyed: ''For those who have never seen the play before, I think it offers a more exciting, more accessible and less alienating version than a classic production.'' Macbeth (in English) by the Red Shift Theatre Company, will be staged from Friday to October 10 at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Studio Theatre, 8 pm; matinees Saturday and October 10, 3 pm. Tickets: $80 and $100.