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

The three witches do a good deal too much wittering about a stage covered in red rice husks, and lighting effects are somewhat overused in an attempt to create a more dramatic backdrop. In statements about the play Lu has described his aim here as creating a poetry of motion, but this, in the opinion of this reviewer at least, detracts considerably from the aims of recreating Shakespeare's poetry of language.

"I felt a need to give the audience something to look at," Lu said. And while we might not all be totally grateful, a number of devices have proved very effective, most notably the use of masks and stilts to portray changed emotional states and the relative power of characters.

The interaction between Lady Macbeth and her husband revolves around a pair of stilts, which are effective as a symbol of relative power. The massive Lady Macbeth towers above her husband as she persuades him to murder. Later, Macbeth, caught up in his own bloody deeds and now indifferent to the world, acquires the stilts.

"I started just wanting to give a challenge to my actors," Lu said, "But ultimately these [stilts] became an important symbolic device in the play.

Putting aside the relative merits and demerits of the performance itself, the fact that an effort is being made to present Shakespeare in Taiwanese, rather than the easier course of adapting a Shakespeare story, is extremely exciting. This is the second in a series of such works that began with a presentation of Antigone by Taiwan Jen in 2001. Lu said he hoped to move onto other classic works of the Western canon.

Why the Western canon? Lu, like many directors before him, laments the paucity of local scripts suitable for the stage."If we don't have anything better of our own, as a director I take the best that is on offer," he said.

In emphasizing language by remaining faithful to Shakespeare's text in the Taiwanese translation he has commissioned, Lu is standing against a tide of increasingly physical theater, where visual appeal makes it accessible to a wider audience.

"Too much entertainment now is visual," Lu said. "We want people to start listening again."

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