Fri, May 23, 2003 - Page 17 News List

Tainan Jen gets Macbeth talking

The penultimate performance of the Shakespeare in Taipei series is a Taiwanese-language version of the classic

By Ian Bartholomew  /  STAFF REPORTER

Pretty much everything that a director can do to a playwright, both good and bad, has been done to Shakespeare over the centuries.

The Shakespeare in Taipei series of performances at the Experimental Theater of the National Theater is no different from many modern performances that have preceded it in wanting to take the classic plays and use them for their own expressive purposes.

While the work so far presented has been interesting, with some of it, such as last week's Off Performance Workshop, (外表坊) Drumming with Lear, you may be forgiven for being inclined to wonder what any of it has to do with Shakespeare or his plays.

While not wishing to denigrate the artistic achievements of other theater groups, Lu Po-shen (呂柏伸), the artistic director of the Tainan Jen Theater, doesn't think that much effort has been made to actually bring Shakespeare to a Taiwanese audience. Given that his own work Sonata of the Witches: The Macbeth Verses (女巫奏鳴曲 馬克白詩篇), selects just 13 scenes from Shakespeare's Macbeth, uses just five actors and is spoken in Taiwanese, you might suspect that this is a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Many consciously alternative interpretations of Shakespeare focus on a few particular aspects of a complex work and through the use of modern dramatic devices, impose new interpretations on the play. Sonata, although unashamedly alternative and experimental in its presentation, is relatively restrained in this respect.

The 13 scenes used to make up Sonata are direct translations of the English text, without omission -- or more importantly -- addition of the director's own dialogue.

"More than anything else, Shake-speare is about language," Lu said. "I wanted to create something that presented the sounds of Shakespeare's language to a Taiwanese audience."

What: Sonata of the Witches: The Macbeth Verses

Who: Tainan Jen Theater

When: The Experimental Theater, National Theater, Taipei

When: Today to Sunday 7: 30pm, tomorrow and Sunday 2:30pm

Tickets: NT$400


For this reason, he is happy to be working in Taiwanese rather than Mandarin, for this enables him to make use of the richer tonality of the Taiwanese language.

Tainan Jen brought in Chou Ting-bang (周定邦), one of the foremost promoters of Taiwanese language and a major proponent of the traditional story-telling art to translate the text. They have taken the unusual step of providing a script in Taiwanese and in English. This is laudable, but unfortunately there is little opportunity to consult this useful tool during the performance.

What is possible is simply to enjoy the unfamiliarity of the sounds as they expound the all too familiar story. And this goes for both locals and foreigners. In order to reproduce the rich language and melodies of Shakespeare, Chou draws heavily on the literary tradition of Taiwanese, and Lu admits that even people who speak Taiwanese in daily life might not be able to understand everything.

"But that is no different from English people watching Elizabethan drama," Lu said. Lu, who spent much time watching Shakespeare in various European languages while studying drama in the UK, added that with the classics, it doesn't really matter if you don't understand the language. The poetry of bodies in action and words in flight is more than enough for him.

Although Lu places an emphasis on the audio component of drama, disparaging the distractions that TV and cinema trained directors now bring to the stage, or of the reliance on physical theater by many contemporary groups, his own creation is not exempt from this influence.

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