‘But now, I am cabin'd, cribb'd, confined, bound in / to saucy doubts and fears,’ says Macbeth in Act III Scene IV. I wasn’t far off this sentiment as I sat down in C +2 and committed to watching a tragic clown perform a non-verbal Macbeth. Yes, that's right – non-verbal Shakespeare. I was intrigued to say the least, even if I was sceptical that you could successfully take the words away from the most famous wordsmith in the English canon, and I'm not sure this brave endeavour by Ryukyu Cirque entirely paid off. I did, though, come away with a great respect for the performers and their art.
Clown Macbeth is performed by two people. A dancer (Riko Sugama) plays Lady Macbeth, while a tragic clown (Makoto Inoue) who embodies Macbeth and every other role, although it’s sometimes not clear who each character is. At fifty minutes long, it’s a whirlwind journey through the play, and while some scenes are obvious and compelling – the witches' prophesy, the murder of Duncan, the banquet and Macbeth’s death – many are not as clear. For much of the performance I remained clueless as to what part in the play we were watching, a fact which did affect my engagement with the performers.
Nevertheless, the movement of the piece was outstanding. Although Inoue could have been more precise on a few cues, he displayed a wonderful energy and diversity of movement. I was, however, more struck by Sugama, who managed to convey a remarkable amount of emotion through her graceful dances. Some of the anger and passion of Lady Macbeth was missing, but she was absolutely stunning to watch, and both performances allowed me to appreciate an art that I hadn’t previously had a lot of experience viewing.
The red ribbons draped across the minimalist stage provided a great prop, which was put to use in very clever ways by the performers. The sound used in the production was also very fitting to the atmosphere of Macbeth, but it proved highly repetitive after about twenty minutes. I felt this added to the confusion of the plot, and it was also slightly on the ‘too loud’ side, making the static and mechanical sounds crucial to the performance quite hard to bear.
This might all sound very critical, but I did genuinely enjoy the performance. Clown Macbeth is a production that can truly call itself different, and I believe that everyone should see something different at the Fringe. It’s certainly hard these days to find Shakespeare done in an original fashion – and if nothing else, Ryukyu Cirque can say that they’ve managed to reinterpret the Bard in an interesting and near-unique way. I’m just not sure it worked the way the performers, or I, wanted it to.