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Blood-soaked Macbeth fits festival theme perfectly but fails to touch #HF12

Imagine Arjan Robben. The much-troubled frontman of the Dutch national team has just seen a brilliant move rewarded with a penalty and he is ready to take it. Out comes a field hand with a new set of adhesive letters for his shirt because the numbers are no longer legible from the stands. Lots of lashing, shirt off, seconds glue. Circumstances, in short. After two minutes, the fielder is gone, the number readable and the referee's whistle sounds. Then try to hit the target.

Something like this happened to star actor Fedja van Huêt at the premiere of Macbeth at the Holland Festival, on 10 June 2012. Because his transmitter microphone could not withstand the many fluids on his body, a stagehand came to put a new complete transmitter set on him, while the rest of the actors kept repeating some words to survive the extremely embarrassing moment. That Van Huêt nevertheless kept going full steam ahead until the end of the performance is worth a compliment. Whether he would have been better without this interlude is impossible to tell.

I mention this incident because it reminded me of similar incident in 1991, when, as a stagehand, I watched Van Huet's colleague and antagonist in Macbeth Hans Kesting suffer something similar. Kesting's counterpart (Bert André) was in a wheelchair with no floor contact. During the premiere, the makeshift brake, which was mounted on that chair because of the 10-degree slope of the stage floor of the Amsterdam Schouwburg, broke off. Poor Kesting then spent an hour and a half exclusively keeping his opponent on stage, and had to play another role in the meantime. The national press saw only an ill-concentrated bunch of actors. The reviews were devastating.

Enfin. All this to introduce the message that I did not find this Macbeth an unmitigated pleasure. Of course, some of Holland's best actors are on stage under the direction of Germany's best director, who also happens to be a Dutchman, so there is little wrong with that. What was wrong with it, however, is that the adaptation of Shakespeare's gory revenge tragedy about a man who can become king and takes everything out of the way to do so, is rather bare bones. As if it were an opera, everything of the long dialogues from Shakespeare's tragedy has been cut out, and what remains of the familiar monologues are mostly one-liners, which are often repeated, very musically by the way.

Violence is a choice, reads director Simons' message, and that choice can lead to an addiction, similar to smoking, drinking or heroin. Macbeth is addicted to carnage more than to kingship. Stopping him can only happen if all nature rebels, but even then it is a choice to continue the violence or not.

This is one of the themes of Shakespeare's original, and it coincides wonderfully with the theme of festival composer and director Pierre Audi. So rarely have we experienced a more consistent festival programme than the current one, it has to be said.

What is unfortunate about this blood-soaked Macbeth by Toneelgroep Amsterdam is that outside the main theme, there is damn little to experience. Shakespeare still did his best to allow all kinds of theories and side-paths, with Simons it is a funnel with no outlet. More like a bathtub, in other words. And then you naturally start creating distance, no matter how close you sit. I was sitting in the front row and the blood splatter missed me by a hair, but otherwise I was not touched by the performance. That may have been due to that thing with the transmitter microphone. But so we won't know.

The fact remains that the performance did manage to touch me in one moment. Fred Goessens, the actor who has been casting the world's finest supporting roles at Amsterdam's Stadsschouwburg for 25 years, mourned the death of his wife and children in the role of McDuff, one of Macbeth's rivals. He did so well, cleanly, imaginatively and convincingly. For a moment there was a moment of real closeness.

And so for that, we go to the theatre.

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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