By Danielle Farrow
Within a haze, spotlights pick out actors; a square lit strongly focuses on one, they all converge and the central figure sings the opening of Macbeth, voice high and clear, an innocent witch pronouncing ‘fair is foul, and foul is fair’ – a strange mix that foretells much of what is to come. Another performer sings the battle of brave Macbeth and Shakespeare’s famous story of a celebrated warrior becoming a murderous tyrant, told here in polyphonic tones, is underway.
Polish Song of the Goat Theatre Company, a training-based ensemble, presents the Scottish play with East European chants, wooden martial arts practice swords and sticks, and many a famous speech. The company’s physicality – particularly in martial movements – and its voices raised in song are truly impressive, so it is surprising that both Macbeth and his Lady take a long time to find their voices in speech, not quite rising above the accompanying sounds of the others and the almost constant music. The odd rare silence in the score is weighty for being a long time coming but could have been put to greater use elsewhere too. In exploring Shakespeare’s musicality, the vocal and instrumental score created for this performance sometimes over-rides and flattens the muscularity of his language, though overall the accompaniment on stringed instruments and drum supports vocals that soar and heightens the already dark, and sometimes eerie, atmosphere.
There are bold choices in putting acting explorations into performance, such as shared breath, throwing the impulse to speak and move between the performers, and the use of sticks to keep movement flowing, sounds punctuating and visuals stimulating. The design includes buildable tables, creating different heights for performance, and turnable panels, shelved on one side with candles. Yet, once the final candle is out and the tale told, the music continues with false ends that draw laughter. This is a perfect example of the strange fabric of Song of the Goat’s Macbeth: its cloth is woven with a flood of ensemble inspirations that seduce, fascinate, annoy and alienate, often soaring, occasionally pedestrian and every now and then falling flat.
From this cauldron of lost words, potent energy, glorious sounds, grand physicality and occasional dodgy arm movements, a clear spirit emerges: Song of the Goat’s production is a Macbeth that’s a song with a difference and undoubtedly ‘an experience‘.