Het gesproken woord 'bespookt' door het gezongen woord

MCBTH is het verhaal van Macbeth teruggebracht tot zijn naakte essentie. Met vijf acteurs, zes muzikanten (SPECTRA Ensemble) en drie zangeressen (VOCAALLAB) wordt het drama verteld van een man die met iedere moord die hij begaat steeds meer greep verliest op de werkelijkheid.

Guy Cassiers en Dominique Pauwels gaan op zoek naar een nieuwe vorm van muziektheater: muziek en zang worden medespelers in het verhaal. Ze leggen een dimensie bloot die in het spreken verborgen en verdrongen blijft. MCBTH wil via de intense interactie van woord, beeld en zang iets oproepen van de wrede poëzie die het stuk draagt.

For the first time Guy Cassiers has chosen two theatre classics in one season, Hamlet and Macbeth. That’s a surprising choice for a director who has concentrated on staging novels. Erwin Jans, what do you see as the link?

In terms of content there is a clear thread connecting, on the one hand, the Triptiek van de macht (The Triptych of Power), De man zonder eigenschappen (The Man Without Qualities), Duister hart (Heart of Darkness) and Bloed & rozen (Blood and Roses) and, on the other, the two Shakespearean plays. Hamlet and Macbeth are part of Cassiers’ analysis of power and of the figure of the ruler and his relationship with reality. Both Hamlet and Macbeth are guilty of regicide. Macbeth commits his crime at the beginning of the drama, Hamlet not until the end, but in both cases their lives are conditioned by that deed. For both projects Cassiers turned to familiar collaborators: he is making MCBTH with composer Dominique Pauwels and Hamlet vs Hamlet with the writer Tom Lanoye. In that sense there is more continuity than you might at first think. However, the cooperation with composer Dominique Pauwels in MCBTH goes a step further than in Bloed & rozen. The live music and singing are an integral part of the dramatic action of the play. Music (six musicians) and song (three singers) are used to depict Macbeth’s inner development. 

How do Cassiers and Pauwels read the tragedy of Macbeth?

Macbeth is Shakespeare’s last and perhaps most original drama. It is about an ambitious prince who is eventually overthrown. That theme has its roots in the preoccupation during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance with the tragedy and fall of great and powerful men. However, in their MCBTH Guy and Dominique are less interested in that aspect. By comparison with other Shakespearean villains, Macbeth undergoes a profound spiritual change and this drives the play beyond the theme of the fall of the mighty: “Bolingbroke and Claudius feel their guilt, but Macbeth is shown as creating his own hell”, wrote one scholar. Guy and Dominique find the idea that Macbeth creates his own (negative) world, his ‘hell’, a very challenging one. Macbeth creates this hell not only through his actions – his murders – but also, and perhaps above all, through the activity of his mind. Harold Bloom rightly called the play "a tragedy of the imagination ". Macbeth’s imagination – his anticipation of what is going to happen and his reflection on what has happened – takes him into a world that cannot be described in terms of good and evil or in terms of real and unreal. Hamlet’s to be or not to be question also applies to Macbeth. Like Agamemnon in Atropa, Kurtz in Duister hart and Gilles de Rais in Bloed & rozen, Macbeth also finds himself in a moral twilight zone before stepping into the darkness of uncontrolled and uncontrollable violence. 

How do Cassiers and Pauwels deal with this opposition between good and evil, light and darkness? Why are both theatre-makers so fascinated by that dark side of man?

The basic scheme of Shakespeare’s dramas – whether comedies, tragedies or histories – is 'order – chaos – restoration of order'. On the face of it, Shakespeare would seem to be a champion of order, authority and morality, except that the greater share of his dramas is given over to the description of chaos, moral decline, evil, crime, etc. It would be an underestimation of his ethical genius to claim that he only wants to show us what things shouldn’t be like. There is far more to Shakespeare’s scripts than showing how good and order triumph over evil and chaos. Most of his tragic protagonists – Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, King Lear, etc. – live in the suspension of order and even contribute to the breakdown of that order. Their lives are played out in the twilight zone between ‘being’ and ‘not being’. Between being and not being is ‘being lost’ and the experience of war is an expression of that state. In Cassiers’ above-mentioned plays war also constitutes the world in which the dividing line between truth and lies, good and evil, reality and illusion is jeopardized.   

How should we visualize that antithesis between good and evil, being and not being on stage?   

Paradoxically enough this world of war is closely bound up with the internalization that repeatedly manifests itself in Cassiers’ plays, with the use of visual technology playing an important role. The enlargement of the faces of the actors and the virtual doubling of their physical presence create a world in which the status of the external reality is called into question and the emphasis comes to lie on projection. Cassiers and Pauwels radically extrapolate this internalization. Just as the vowels were dropped from the name – from Macbeth to MCBTH –, so too the drama is reduced to its essence: Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, King Duncan, Banquo, Macduff and the witches.

And what role does music play in this process?

Macbeth’s development – his increasing bloodlust, the internalization of his moral conflict, his isolation, the loosening of his grip on reality, the hell of his imagination – are interpreted through music and song. For Dominique the play has to begin as a stage play, but the more power Macbeth acquires and the more murders he commits, the more the medium of theatre begins to fragment and another medium creeps in: opera (singing and music). Macbeth is so wrapped up in his power struggle that he loses sight of the world around him. Opera symbolizes the fading, the blurring of that world. Music and song are fellow players. They represent the constant shift between reality and hallucination, between a rational and controllable world on the one hand, and a world in which the darkness of (inner and outer) violence rules on the other. The spoken word is ‘haunted’ by the sung word. Music and song reveal a dimension that is hidden and repressed in the spoken word.

Erwin Jans was interviewed by An-Marie Lambrechts

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