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Throw your hat into the festival ring. Scream loudly that you want to do a Shakespeare and the chances are you won’t be given the chance.
But if you’re Marthinus Basson, there will be a plan. Instead of a full-blown production of Macbeth, it has been scaled down to nine players with Dawid Minnaar and Anna-Mart van der Merwe as the king and queen in Basson’s adapted version of the Eitemal translation now titled macbeth.slapeloos.
“We worked on it for a week in July, the three of us,” says Minnaar (speaking about his co-star Van der Merwe and the director) just to rethink the play and roughly discuss the possibilities. It was helpful as it gave the two actors something to chew on and work with in advance. And if you think they’re an obvious stage couple, they’ve only been on stage together once before, in a 1992 production of Reza de Wet’s Mirakel directed by Stephan Bouwer.”
This time round they describe their emotions as “excitingly terrified”. They’re thrilled to be working with the maestro, smile at their unashamed adoration but know that this is the time to put their heads down and work.
“It’s like a mountain you have to conquer,” says Minnaar. It is about the play being stripped down, scratching at the essence and defining how certain themes resonate today.
“It’s both a re- and deconstruction,” says Van der Merwe, but they know they will cope, working in sizeable chunks. That goes for the work but it also applies to the way the play had been shrunk in certain ways. They love working with the smaller company, which becomes like a family. It also allows for imaginative changes which adds to the meaning of what Basson wants his Shakespeare to say.
Playing Shakespeare in Afrikaans is a plus for the two performers.
“It’s as if it’s a step removed,” says Minnaar, referring to the language and rhythms. It’s part of classic Shakespeare but not having to grapple with the language gets them closer to the text more swiftly.
In this instance it’s all about a husband and wife in conversation. “It becomes a domestic discussion,” says Van der Merwe as she describes the conversations as those between a married couple, something people can relate to. They are also playing with a theme relevant in today’s world: real actions with real consequences. And finally, relationships that fall apart. “She becomes like the walking wounded,” is how Van der Merwe describes Lady Macbeth.
Tackling Macbeth, Minnaar is battling with his character’s vision of manhood. “It’s the idea of a man, what makes a good leader and kingship,” he says. All of which buy into the current zeitgeist, not only here but across the world.
Violence and the abuse of power, the untangling of the relationship between the man and the woman, the way they manipulate one another and rely on the other’s strength, all of these are being juggled. But also the concept of evil, inhumanity, and how things happen to ordinary people. No one dreams about fraud or abuse or ever imagines that’s what they will be caught up in, argue the actors.
Minnaar believes Macbeth had a conscience which is eventually distorted and usurped. One of the lines that captures his state of mind so perfectly is when he complains about being saturated with evil.
“A certain kind of euthanasia takes place,” says Minnaar as he points at the way we become immune to the inhumanity we see every day, things we don’t want to deal with and would rather ignore – like beggars at robots. “It happens as the brutality escalates.”
And as the title suggests, macbeth.slapeloos (sleepless), your demons start keeping you awake.
“Sleep deprivation is a scary thing,” says Van der Merwe, and it’s easy to visualise these two actors grappling with that prospect. How do these two people cope when they’re driven to do things that they can’t hope to defend? What happens to their accountability? Your life has an impact on others and when someone manipulates you to do something against your nature, how does that affect you in the aftermath?
Think of the Macbeth we know and all these questions surface, but often it is the bigger picture that comes to the fore. For this modern-made Macbeth it is all about working with the specifics.
“What we are dealing with is huge but it’s all about going through small doors,” says Minnaar.
They know they’re in safe hands and they’re always aware that they are working within the parameters of a director’s vision. “It’s a daunting task,” they both agree, but they’re ready to meet the expectations of their audiences. “It’s such an opportunity to tell the story again,” says Minnaar. And Van der Merwe knows that everything is under control with Basson in charge.
“He’s such a visual auteur and the way he wants to tell this story is a big piece of this rendition,” concludes Minnaar. Their excitement is catching and few people interested in local theatre can ignore Basson when he concentrates on the classics. He knows how to pick his stories. This isn’t the first time he has staged Macbeth, and because cost has forced his creativity in a different direction, it adds to the colourfulness of what to expect.
• Macbeth.slapeloos is part of Aardklop’s showcase productions which can be seen in Potchefstroom from September 24 to 28. Whether it tours further, depends on the response.