PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 December, 2008, 12:00am

Theatre Babel

HK Cultural Centre

Fri-Dec 14, 8pm, also Sat-Dec 14, 4pm

William Shakespeare's Macbeth is a play set in Scotland that's largely populated by Scottish historical characters, including its eponymous general turned king.

Even so, Graham McLaren, the Scottish artistic director and co-founder of Scotland's Theatre Babel, is of the opinion that 'there is nothing particularly Scottish about Macbeth'. That is because the tragedy's themes are universal.

'Wherever there is power, there is the potential for the abuse of that power, regardless of nationality or race,' says McLaren. '[So] I suspect that the people of Hong Kong will be like that of most other cities and be aware of those dangers and interested in art that portrays them.

'We know Shakespeare took much from the classic playwrights and his Macbeth has often been linked to Seneca.'

Seneca was an ancient Roman philosopher, statesman and dramatist who was involved in a plot to kill the emperor, Nero. And in developing Theatre Babel's version of this Shakespearian tale about a general who commits regicide in order to become king himself, its director and designer drew on this connection with Seneca.

'I asked a simple question of this version: if Shakespeare had sent the play to the man who influenced it - Seneca - what suggestions might he make to re-shape the play?' But while McLaren has made some changes to Shakespeare's shortest tragedy, he is emphatic that he's 'made no real attempt to speed things up or really update the work'. Instead, he says, 'I have perhaps aged rather than updated the piece.'

Theatre Babel has previously staged Macbeth - which in Hong Kong stars Lewis Howden (above left) in the title role - in Scotland, England, the Philippines and Malaysia. McLaren says he's not in favour of making any cultural adjustments to any play to suit local audiences, including that which the superstitious-minded in the theatrical world refer to as either 'the Scottish play' or 'the Bard's play' rather than simply as Macbeth.

He believes that 'to change the production to have the company try to please an imagined audience would compromise the show and us as artists'.

'All we can do as theatre makers is to present the work to any audience at home or away with an open heart and hope for the stars to align that night,' McLaren says.

'Remember, the performers can only present one half of the experience, the rest is supplied by the people who come to see it, and it is that shared experience that can at times be greater than the sum of its parts. And I believe this is what makes theatre such a special art form.'

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