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Macbeth is Shakespeare’s shortest and bloodiest tragedy.  TR Warsawa’s production, 2008, Macbeth, at the Royal Highland Centre’s Lowland Hall (7.30 pm, 11-13 and 16-18 August; 2.00 pm, 15 August), translates Macbeth to that bloodiest of contexts, the contemporary Middle East.  Violence begets violence and all moral restraints dissolve.
Graham Greene saw Macbeth’s final scene’s reconstitution of peace and stability as symptomatic of Shakespeare’s essential conservatism. In this production however, there is no ultimate triumph of peace and stability.  Macduff’s maniacal decapitation of Macbeth leaves an indelible memory of evil having triumphed over evil.
From the outset, Macbeth’s (and Lady Macbeth’s) ambitions and power-lust are posed against the background of a Duncan whose dissolute entourage’s behaviour facilitates, almost excuses, Macbeth’s regicide.  This a Macbeth without heroes.
Perhaps the original is better seen as Shakespeare’s tribute to his great patron James VI & I, the Scottish king whose accession to the English throne was the harbinger of a new United Kingdom, “the swelling act of the imperial theme”.
The play however is essentially concerned with the factors which disunite kingdoms, ambition, jealousy and lust for power.  Acclaimed Polish director, Grzegorz Jarzyna, has brought utterly modern technical effects to assist translate Shakespeare to the 21st century.
The Lowland Hall’s dimensions support a massive set and with it an array of electronic screens, dramatic pyrotechnics and an on-set sub-title screen which ensures that this Polish language production is entirely comprehensible.
The quasi-cinematic staging and the effects would be incongruous however were it not for the power of the acting.  CezaryKosi?ki’s sharp, sinewy Macbeth works systematically from virtue to power to its nemesis.Aleksandra Konieczna’sLady Macbeth is a voluptuous, manipulative,schemer, determined to impel her sometimes uncertain husband to the status she believes is his by right.
What emerges is a superb portrayal of the corrupting nature of power, of the inescapability, once entered, of the cycle of evil and of the small moral weaknesses which ultimately lead to utter depravity.  Where this production falters is in the incongruity of aspects of the original plot and text with the 21st century setting.  Banquo’s ghost can make perfect sense against the background of an age in which belief in ghosts was commonplace.  The arrival of the (naked) ghost at a feast of military leaders in the midst of a 21st century civil war strains credibility andLady Macbeth’s demise in a launderette is perhaps the least believable aspect of a brave rewriting which occasionally falters.
It is appropriate in so many ways that the Edinburgh Festival in 2012 should start with a Polish version of Macbeth.  The new (as well as the old) Scottish Polish community was present in droves at the opening night.  Scotland is a richer, better place because of this new incoming wave and the cultural connection which the production symbolised is hugely significant.  The play itself, which starts by portraying Scotland as a failed state in crisis and finishes by showing it achieving peace and stability by becoming dependent on England, poses probing questions of modern Scotland.  As the Bard said, “Stands Scotland where it did?”
Who can say with certainty where Scotland stands but, if this production is representative, contemporary Polish theatre stands tall and the Edinburgh Festival has been truly enhanced by its presence.
The above article was first published in Lothian Life on 13 August 2012:

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