Guest Blog: Flabbergast Theater Brings Enchanting, Imaginative Take on a Shakespeare Classic to the Fringe
Simon Gleave discusses interesting performance techniques such as mask play, Japanese dancing, clowning and choral singing and how one choreographer helped shape the madness of macbeth.
Flabbergast cast member and associate artist Simon Gleave blogs for BroadwayWorld about the contribution Macbeth’s Tragedy at the Fringe, how the creators and performers have integrated many different styles into the production and how this adds to the audience’s understanding and experience of the story.
Nothing is but what is not. (i.iii)
Make our faces the vizars of our hearts. (i.iv)
Macbeth is a play about performance, hiding and deception; it is about fate, the future and the supernatural; about sex, power and violence. It is also about prolepsis – the anticipation of the future to come – and prophecy – the vision of the future to come. So it’s an act of imagination. It exists in the imagination of Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, the Witches. It exists in Flabbergast’s imagination. Above all, we hope that it will live on in the public’s imagination.
Henry Maynard (artistic director of Flabbergast) started making Macbeth over 4 years ago. Oddly, he started it from the clown’s point of view. It started with the character The Porter and the desire for the original knock-knock joke (which comes from Macbeth) to be actually funny. It’s often played very seriously, taking the text as gospel when what we wrote is probably an actor’s recording of ad-libs and plays to make the audience laugh, those jokes were written and this is the text we have to work with, but it was only funny for this actor with this spectators. This led to much of the early work through explorations of ridicule. When he married her with drums, polyrhythmic beating, and covering the performers with clay, the first marks of what became Flabbergast’s Macbeth were made.
Styles were thrown at this project from the beginning: puppet, clown, full mask, neutral mask, jester, choir, choral singing, Butoh and the physical work of Matej Matejka.
In 2018, we started with masks and mask games to explore the role of the body in miming the invisible, creating environments and spatial rhythm. We wanted from the beginning that the expressiveness of our bodies corresponded to the wild and nightmarish poetry of the language and the masks gave us a route to embody the “nothing [that] is” and the “What [that] is not.”
At the same time, research on the jester is introduced. Bouffon, who accentuates and plays with the grotesque, helped us to make fun of the play and of ourselves, using the work to express all our blasphemies, our follies, our lust for power and our low instincts, without pretending comment on the actual contemporary world in order to justify ourselves.
Macbeth also talks about the natural or supernatural power of women and the male violence that destroys women. Witches aren’t (just) three witches on a hill singing nursery rhymes: they’re nature women, goddesses, and the latest expression of witchcraft dating back to the Greek goddess Hecate of magic and spells. They are also visible reminders of the persecution of thousands of women who have been unjustly murdered by men for being witches throughout history.
In order to deepen witchcraft, a key encounter of the project was our work in Butoh with Marie-Gabrielle Rotie. Butoh is a form of Japanese dance and performance that focuses on transformation, ugliness, weakness, stretching times, embodying suspensions, and cultivating spacious nothingness as a way to invoke a mysterious elsewhere, often touching death. .
It seemed appropriate for Macbeth, especially the witches. Numerous gnarled transformations, fingers like tree twigs, seizures, tremors, and the prolonged stillness between frantic actions emerge from our Butoh research.
Finally, the piece would not be what it is without the major work, teaching, dramaturgy and choreography of Matej Matejka. Matej shaped our madness and much of the physical expression of the piece comes from his craft. He pushed us with his technique, his discipline, his imagination. This means we were able to express the damn rigid, patriarchal military society of Macbeth against the demonically pagan and dangerously fluid nature of the play, all physically.
The icing on the cake was Adam Clifford’s extraordinary music and sound arrangements, his use of bells, drums and voice to cultivate an exquisitely textured and captivating environment.
All of this, we hope, communicates a Macbeth of raw materials and illusions: a sublime, funny and violent nightmare delivered with an artisanal and crazy, trance-like energy.
The Tragedy of Macbeth, Roxy Assembly (Center), 12pm, August 4-29 (not August 17)
Photo credit: Vessi Ven