Macbeth reimagined

JOHANNESBURG - William Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy, Macbeth tells the story of an ordinary man who hears a prophecy from a group of witches saying that he will be king.

He and his wife then choose a dark and bloody path to make sure this happens. 

A re-imagining of this classic play is currently on at the Pieter Toerien Theatre at Johannesburg's Montecasino.

READ: 'Does Shakespeare have a place in African literature?' asks book fair

Director Fred Abrahamse explains what he finds interesting.

"I think what appeals to me about it is a lot of Shakespeare’s characters are evil from the get-go. Richard is evil incarnate but when you look at Macbeth and Lady Macbeth they’re kind of like everyman."

"They’re ordinary – he’s a soldier and they’re ambitious and things start to happen and once you open that crack… It’s the same with corruption, once you open that crack then it just snowballs bigger and bigger and they can’t stop themselves.”

Former YoTV presenter Tailyn Ramsamy plays Banquo, the quintessential good guy. He says this play features one of Shakespeare’s strongest woman characters.

Ramsay explained, “Lady Macbeth is this really strong, devious woman that isn’t really represented in a lot of Shakespeare’s plays and Macbeth is a sensitive man who kind of goes down the wrong path. It’s characters that Shakespeare doesn’t normally play with but in this play, he has turned them on their heads and put them positions that he’s never done before and that’s the reason so many people love it...”.

READ: Shakespeare in SA schools: to die, to sleep or perchance to dream?

What makes this play different is that only six actors perform over 20 roles, and men play the female parts, as would have been done in Shakespeare’s time. 

The director says this does not mean the actors had to parody women because Macbeth’s female characters – especially Lady Macbeth – are immensely powerful.

The cast and director have strong feelings about current conversations in South Africa and elsewhere about Shakespeare's relevance. 

Abrahamse believes it's arrogant to deny pupils access to any knowledge, regardless of where it comes from. 

The cast believes seeing Shakespeare in a theatre helps make the works accessible to high school students.

Ramsamy says he struggled with Shakespeare at school, but now he can't get enough.