Edinburgh Fringe 2014
MacBheatha is a new Gaelic adaption of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Of it, the producer, Paul Coulter, says “Macbeth would have spoken Gaelic and this production allows the international audience coming to Edinburgh to not only see the Scottish Play performed in Scotland in this historic year but it allows them the unique chance to see it performed in the great kings’ native language.”
Once in every fringe one should see something unexpected, something you hadn’t expected to see or chosen. Today was mine – I was ready to see another show only to find at the last moment that there were two of us from FringeReview with press tickets and with over 3,000 shows that doesn’t make sense. So, a last minute revision and I went to see MacBheatha, an abridged Macbeth in Gaelic.
MacBheatha is a new Gaelic adaption of Shakespeare’s Macbeth based on a translation by Gaelic specialist Ian MacDonald. South Uist actor David Walker plays Macbeth alongside Lewis born actress Catriona Lexy Campbell as Lady Macbeth.
As a non-Gaelic speaker in some ways I feel I should not be reviewing it. However, the programme said it was suitable for non-Gaelic speakers and we were given a synopsis as we arrived, with time to read it as we waited for the house to open. As far as I could ascertain briefly canvassing the audience at the end there was no one in the audience who was a Gaelic speaker. However, as I don’t feel I can entirely assess it from an objective perspective this is a slightly more personal view than I would usually write.
The bare setting of the Demonstration Room at Summerhall suited well the staging of the play as being in a broadly modern dystopian setting. However, there was one technical irritation that could easily be addressed. A number of entrance/exits are made through a door stage right into an area lit by fluorescent lighting. It is distracting and takes us out of the play. If that could be turned off, or a lower working light be provided, it would contribute to maintaining the otherwise absorbing and claustrophobic atmosphere of the play.
Walker and Campbell are mesmerising in their pared down telling of the tragedy. Not understanding a word of it meant that I focused much more on the inflexion and intonation of the text and watched their physical expression of the story much more closely. As did everyone else around me. You could have heard a pin drop for much of the play. There was also something powerful in the sense that we were hearing the story in the language which those characters may well have spoken at the time.
The play is supported by projection which isn’t always entirely in sympathy with the rest of the production. It is a modern setting, Macbeth uses a mobile phone, important elements of the story are conveyed through news bulletins and yet the portrayal of the witches is as slightly lurid figures from the dark ages. Would he have believed such characters? More sophisticated temptresses would have felt more in keeping with the style of the play. There is also a lot of distracting visual material around the news announcements; the project surface, the rear wall, is imperfect and the result was that it was sometimes difficult to focus on the announcer.
Overall, this is a rare opportunity to not only hear Shakespeare in a different language but the language that Macbeth would have used. To experience the story in a completely different way. And for those with some knowledge of Gaelic it is a must see.