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Blood on the stage floor

Diwan Singh Bajeli
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Bharat Rang Mahotsav Swapna Sandhani’s staging of “Macbeth” put a fresh spin on the Shakespearean tragedy. Diwan Singh Bajeli

In the past we have seen several productions of William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” on the Delhi stage, marked by a variety of presentational styles and interpretations. Kolkata’s Swapna Sandhani staged the Bengali adaptation of “Macbeth” by Ujjal Chattopadhyay at Kamani recently. The play, which ended Bharat Rang Mahotsav, stands out for the deep insight into the dark, bloody and nightmarish world of Macbeth and its fresh interpretation as the unending bloody struggle for the throne. According to this “Macbeth”, the tyranny perpetrated by a ruler will not end with the violent overthrow of the tyrant. The new occupant of the throne will soon metamorphose into another tyrant.

The play is directed by Koushik Sen, who seems to be in agreement with Jan Kott, an authority on Shakespeare, who writes, “A production of ‘Macbeth’ not evoking a picture of the world flooded with blood would inevitably be false.” Koushik’s production is replete with blood. In the original text Lady Macbeth’s death is shown off stage but in the production under review she commits suicide with a dagger on the centre stage in full view of the audience. The trail of murder starts with the horrific killing of Duncan, king of Scotland, and then one murder follows another. The blood becomes a metaphor for the usurper to retain power at all cost, who has become a king by killing the king. The perpetrators of violence in the final analysis become the victims. Humanity has to confront bloodthirsty rulers in all ages.

One of the innovative features of Koushik’s production is the presence of a throne with a human skull on top, which occupies the centre stage. Whenever Macbeth finds himself threatened by enemies he clings to this throne and resorts to the destruction of his enemies. Towards the end, Macduff enters with Macbeth’s head, saying that he is able to kill because he is the only one to be destined for this historic duty. The new king once again occupies the same throne on which Macbeth sat. The new king will rule Scotland now. The director gives special emphasis to this scene showing the change of rulers. The “dead butcher and his friend-like queen” are no more. The rightful king occupying the same throne with the human skull on display suggests that the atmosphere of fear continues.

Not all supporters of the new king hail his coronation. Most of the bloody action in the play takes place during different hours of the night in an atmosphere of terror, which induces in the dramatic personae an agonised sense of nightmare. The long night appears to be eternally pervasive: “O, never shall sun that morrow see!”, “It is a night from which sleep has banished… Macbeth has murdered sleep, and cannot sleep any more.” The characters wander in a nightmarish world.

As a result of the creative use of various expressive means — lighting, music and offstage sounds — the right mood is created. The very opening of the play with a landscape inhabited by supernatural elements with weird appearances wandering in the midst of thunder and lightening confronting Macbeth and Banquo, generals of the King’s army, evokes the right tone — the supernatural elements who poison the brain and heart of brave general Macbeth returning after suppressing the revolt against the king. The pace of the production gradually and logically acquires momentum, moving cohesively towards a climax that grips the attention of the audience.

The set is designed by Soumik— Piyali in a way that provides enough space for performers. The fighting scene with the forward movement of ‘Birnam Wood’ invested with remarkable energy thrills the audience. The production is harmoniously blended, taking the shape of a metaphor of a web of intrigues and murder.

Koushik Sen as Macbeth gives an excellent performance. He truly lives the various stages of the development of his character and his nightmarish world. Reshmi Sen as Lady Macbeth portrays various emotional layers of her complex character. The transformation of her morbidly bold, brute and strong-willed lady who forces her husband, Macbeth, to kill Duncan as a confirmation of his manhood, to a pathetic picture of guilt whose only refuge is death is portrayed with subtlety.


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