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St. Petersburg's Macbeth or Original Sin?

Every single person in this world with any trace of interest for literature fears his name, holds him in considerable respect and envisions theatre productions based on his plays as highly classical and traditional. Nevertheless, however classical we imagine him to be, William Shakespeare’s plays are prone to a whole new world of interpretations, which serves as a proof of his ingenious manner of writing.

So here I am, in the main hall of the Yugoslav Drama Theatre in Belgrade, expecting to see Macbeth in his dreadful crime and distorted state of mind. What I see at first glance on stage resembles a new version of an ancient torture room, with poles attached to the ceiling and a disturbing solitary light beam in the stage darkness. The St. Petersburg Theatre Season in Belgrade takes place in the Yugoslav Drama Theatre and Macbeth is performed by the Baltic House theatre, directed by Luk Perceval, one of the most awarded and distinguished European theatre directors, currently working at Thalia Theatre in Hamburg. His manner of creating is well known by the holistic approach to text lines and acting, which includes the maximum of both physical and psychological endeavour of the actors. Spectators slowly enter the hall, the sinister stage penetrates their minds and as they go through the brief description of the production in the booklets, only one fact becomes crystal clear: this is not going to be an ordinary Macbeth.

Luk Perceval, director. Photo: Yugoslav Drama Theatre

During the first five minutes after the lights have gone down, few actors appear on the stage and along comes the first puzzling impression of those who know the play well. Where are the witches? There is a man with his head in the bucket of water and silence. The light beam on the stage remains solitary and the sight of the audience almost grows dim in attempt to adapt to the overall unexpected darkness. In medias res, as the Romans would say it. The expected plot is twisted, tailored to the taste of the educated and well-read audience, where, in fact, the chronological order of events, even the events themselves, bear no essential meaning. The actor playing Macbeth keeps his head in the bucket of water from time to time, probably trying to wash away the crimes he has committed or those which are yet to be committed. Lady Macbeth, visibly younger than her husband, comes forward in high heels and modern clothes, she is more a woman than a wife of a Thane, her body seduces, she uses all the powers her gender provides her with to dominate the mind and the body of her husband. Both of them keep spilling the water all around the stage and wash their hands and faces, making the unreleased tension between them increase with every single drop, so that it becomes almost palpable. The emptiness in their marriage is so vast that it can absorb every crime, every sin they commit. There’s no healthy relationship anymore, what they do to each other, in desperate urge to compensate for their failure, is the impressive example of mutual destruction. The woman pushes the man, who once used to be hers, to a series of crimes. The man, unable to resist, irreparably weak in his great power, gives in. The relationship between a man and a woman, as representatives of this polarized world is what Luk Perceval derives the whole tragedy from.

Macbeth, scene: Yugoslav Drama Theatre, Belgrade. Photo: Yugoslav Drama Theatre

At the moment when the tension escalates, seven women appear on the stage with the sounds of disturbing music. It is only then when a spectator who carefully follows, realizes that these women have been on the stage from the very beginning. They’ve been hidden in dark depths of the scene, without a single movement, but they’ve been present all the time, although they didn’t have their expected moment of prophecy at the beginning. Once a spectator becomes aware that their role in the play is far more important than it might originally seem, Luk Perceval skillfully plays with their costumes and appearance. What would one think of first if he saw a naked woman, with long, curly hair down to her feet? Venus, the embodiment of a perfect woman, a siren that drags to death only by singing, the object of many a man wet dreams. These witches perfectly match this description, with one tiny intervention of Perceval’s. They move in short, circular gestures, their bodies twist in quick spasms and they remain silent. One of them is even pregnant. Are these women distorted versions of Lady Macbeth, or Eve, who is, according to Genesis, responsible for Adam’s mistake? Who is the Snake of the story, then? The untamable wish to govern, the insatiable desire for power and throne? So we come to the Beginning, the Original Sin, the ill-fated relationship of two genders, sentenced to failure. Is this really the core of Macbeth’s tragedy? Was it only by accident that Shakespeare created Lady Macbeth as the Eve of the Elizabethan era reminding us that the Creator is eternally angry with female gender? Perceval seems to be fiercely advocating this idea, but his Adam and Eve don’t procreate the mankind, they end up destroyed.

The Fall of Man (Adam and Eve), 1504. by Albrecht Dürer. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Luk Perceval sheds new light on this diabolic tragedy, deriving the series of tragic events from the depths of the chasm into which a man and a woman can easily fall. And the beginning, it is very well known to all of us: Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man”…

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