Without doubt, director (as well as set and costume designer) Diana Dobreva has presented a singular version of Macbeth. The highly stylistic and visually oriented production is so far removed from the Bard’s original that a suit for copyright infringement (if the work were not already in the public domain) would be laughed out of court. For here is the Grand Opera version without benefit of a stirring overture or tuneful arias (the closest musical highlight being the equally “violated” Brahms “Lullaby,” which—on a purely superficial level—gave the images of child innocence a “light motif” and producing several echoes of Salvador Dali). Slipping the leash of leading-tones tonality to ambiguous modality added yet another master to the artistic rape list.
How curious then, with goblets of irony (not spilled on the Pope-like version of King Duncan as was the case in Dobreva’s “decolourization” of Scotland), that the predominantly white garb of the murdered, if naïve, monarch and Hecate (and her buxom witches) forged an instant bond with Michael Levine’s Siegfried (cross-references below), where he eschews gaudy costumes in favour of white sheets and (as was the case when late-inning witchcraft was needed on the National Theatre’s century-old stage) converted gleaming, newly forged swords into symbolic set dressing by spearing the floor (as apposed to the nearly coordinated sound/action throat slittings in Sofia) with their razor-sharp tips, thus planting a multi-dimensional image (death, religion, tombstones, et cetera). The trouble is, this Macbeth is not an opera, lacking a folio or two of first-rate music.
This larger than life/death depiction of such an intimate tale in the rapid ascent, even faster descent of an ambitious man fueled to overflowing by his conniving, sadistic wife, never once let us feel the personal drive, feelings or, finally, madness that lurks in Shakespeare’s economical text on every page.
More than ironic, then, that mere hours previously, the International Association of Theatre Critics “Theatre Day in Bulgaria” included a screening of Theatre on the Road. This brilliantly crafted centenary tribute to the same venue as this evening’s performance had many highlights. But (talk about the dramatic technique of foreshadowing!), none finer than the moment Shakespeare himself lowers his paper in the Green Room (a.k.a. “Canteen”) and soon begins “stealing” some of his best-loved lines from his Bulgarian host—getting big laughs all around in its absurdity. Just a few hours later the shoe was on the proverbial “other” foot as Dobreva “stole the show,” but not in a manner that warrants applause.
Too bad she too, like the documentary, didn’t wind things up with a chorus or two from an unadulterated musical comedy, Annie Get Your Gun (belted out in her inimitable fashion by Ethel Merman). Because “There’s No Business Like Show Business” and, while tempos can change and singers come and go, chopping out some of the lyrics or mucking about with Irving Berlin’s rhythm and chord structure would demonstrate disregard at best and contempt at worst for a fellow artist. There’s nothing like the original: avoid imitations.
No worries: as the offstage Greek chorus chanted, “It’s only a dream.” JWR