By Danielle Farrow
Presented by Players Tokyo, a Japanese English-speaking theatre group that specialises in Shakespeare, Hecat’s Poison is a solo show performed by the group’s founder S. T. Sato.
Sato is mesmerising, her movements precise, detailed and clearly delineating different characters, while her voice does the same. The most infinitesimal change of facial expression makes wonderful differences too, with age and gender swaps, as well as thoughts and emotions, beautifully conveyed.
The tale of Shakespeare’s Macbeth is here told by Hecate, goddess of crossroads, using narration and many key scenes played out. Lines are placed differently, occasionally within the scenes, but mostly for exposition, as Sato carefully moves her chosen chess pieces – three white, three black, a knight, queen and king of each colour, but with a difference. These figures rest on a dark altar piece, the single item of set, and a versatile cloak is used to signify different characters, its varied sections of material excellent visual signals, well utilised, as is a fan and intriguingly applied blood stains. Such simple, yet inspired, design choices are supported by lighting that cools and warms, fills the space and tightens it into smaller areas, with the occasional use of recorded sound, again kept simple and effective.
Hecate is known as a triple goddess and this links magnificently with the three witches of Macbeth. Here the maiden, mother and crone take their turns to focus on ‘the master of the Tiger’. In the original play, this is the captain of a ship called the Tiger, husband to some unknown woman who would not give one of the witches a chestnut. Here, this woman would appear to be Lady Macbeth, and she has drawn the witches’ conniving attentions to her and her husband. They decide to create an illusion, turning the virtuous Macbeth, who was a peace-bringing king of Scotland – a nod to actual history – into Shakespeare’s Macbeth, as if the legacy of the tainted name handed down by Shakespeare is the witches’ revenge on his wife.
Not every word is clear, though meaning is throughout. Sometimes energy was not fully sustained, and occasionally moments of change between characters might have been pacier – the swift to-and-fro immediately after the murder between Macbeth and his lady could not reach the speed indicated by Shakespeare’s verse lines – but these are quibbles, as is mentioning that the choice to have Macbeth look down, particularly to his wife, sometimes obscured facial expression. Truly, Sato fully inhabits her characters, distinct, detailed and rich in economic gesture, each sound and movement apt, considered but connected, marrying more ‘natural’ acting with elements of Japanese stylistic playing.
Hecat’s Poison: Enter the Three Witches is a glorious piece of solo theatre, riveting and explorative, with great ideas in its story and design.
Hecat’s Poison: Enter the Three Witches is on 4-16 August, 11:30 (12:30) @ Quaker Meeting House