Edinburgh Fringe 2012
Song of the Goat condense Macbeth into a 75 minute polyphonic impression. Fabulously ritualistic and utterly breathtaking, its beauty is nonetheless at odds with the essential ugliness of Macbeth
Song of the Goat’s Macbeth is a wonderfully primal, deeply ritualistic performance that takes the essence of the play and depicts it through the use of polyphonic music and ritual in a way that is quite simply breathtaking. As a production it is stunning; as a Macbeth, however, it doesn’t quite hit the mark.
Song of the Goat is a Polish theatre company set up by Grzegorz Bral and Anna Zubrzyka in 1996. Deeply influenced by Jerzy Grotowski, Song of the Goat is a training based, laboratory company. It attempts to find the inner essence and ritual in performance using the musicality of the words. It aims to ”unlock the power of theatre to offer audiences a profound experience that can reaffirm their own sensitivity and humanity”. Its training approach combining voice, music, drama, and movement demands a lot of the actors but culminates in performances of rare dramatic intensity.
Sound is a key part of Song of the Goat’s work. Rafal Habel sits at the side of the stage playing a kayagum, a Korean stringed instrument that punctuates the action. Wonderful polyphonic singing with a Kryie Elison, a Benedictus and Corsican folk song create an enthralling soundscape. The visual tableaux are astounding, light and shade chiaroscuro worthy of Caravaggio. There is something of the martial arts in the way in which staves are used to illustrate the fighting elements of the play; the swishing as they cut the air forms patterns of sound. This comes together in an ensemble performance that is wonderfully ritualistic and very beautiful.
Yet somehow, while I loved the production and the method, there was a lingering feeling of something not quite right which had to do with how the beauty of the production detracted from something about Macbeth which is essentially ugly: the nature and force of evil.
There’s something rough and raw and elemental about Macbeth that Song of the Goat doesn’t quite capture. The power of Macbeth lies in its poetry of the spoken word, its depiction of evil and of a man internally aware of his fall from grace but in the grip of forces so powerful he cannot stop himself. Condensed into an hour, obviously some of the speeches are missing. The major speeches are kept and well rendered by Gabriel Gawin. However, some of the speeches are muffled by the music and although the music plays a powerfully elemental role it shouldn’t be at the expense of the poetry – the two need to complement each other. The beauty of the production makes it difficult for the nature of evil to be fully realised. Macbeth’s conflicted nature and the place of Lady Macbeth (Anna Zubrzycki) are lost in this production.
However, what does shine through in this Macbeth is the elemental forces that grip Macbeth. The witch is always present on stage, dancing around tantalising him and becoming part of his waking and sleeping self. Taken over by forces beyond his control, this Macbeth suggests the irrational nature of evil with resonances of recent conflict in Eastern Europe and the ways in which hatred can enter and be passed from one person to the next. As the play ends, MacDuff is left on stage, and more than any other Macbeth I have seen, there is the feeling that the violence is not finished but will continue to be visited upon those yet to come.
It’s a wonderful ensemble performance of movement, spoken word and song, and a fabulous spectacle. But while it is a wonderfully immersive performance, as a Macbeth it fails to totally convince.