Macbeth dir. Dalian Chen @ Chong Qing Theatre Company, 2017Adaptation

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Macbeth, Audacious Challenge and Innovative Experiment: A New Shakespearean Play directed by Dalian Chen at Chong Qing Theatre Company, 24th and 25th Oct. 2017.

Reviewed by Yu Sun, College of Foreign Languages and Cultures of Xia Men University, China. Her academic interest focuses on the Shakespearean studies and comparative literature.



List of Characters:
Macbeth& Lady Macbeth (Yi Wang)
Lady Macbeth& Macbeth (Yi Ding)
Banquo/Macduff/Fleance(Tao Geng)

In Cheng Du, the capital city of Si Chuan Province, China, the First Cheng Du Drama Festival was held on 12th Sep. 2017. The festival would last for more than 3 months. On 24th and 25th Oct. a Shakespearean play Macbeth gained a sensational success in the Festival. It marked the new level of the creation and performance of modern Chinese drama.

To commemorize the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, Chong Qing Theatre Company produced the experimental modern drama Macbeth in 2016. The play was adapted from the famous Shakespearean play Macbeth by a young scholar Cai Fujun in Art Institute of Fu Jian Province. It was directed by a national first-class director Chen Dalian. And the leading stage designer of China National Opera House Ma LianQing was in charge of the stage design of this play. This year in Cheng Du it was the second time of showing after the performance in Chong Qing last year. (Chong Qing is one of four cities that are directly under control of the central government. The other three are Bei Jing, Shang Hai and Tian Jing) Because of the violence, cruelty and sexuality, the play was banned in Chong Qing.

This play is a masterpiece of psychological description, which is filled with gloomy and terrible atmosphere. The setting is shifted from the ancient battle field to a slaughterhouse. It keeps the original Shakespearean lines, but the role of Macbeth is changed into a manager of the slaughterhouse, the monarch the owner of the factory. Altogether there are nine scenes and five characters in the play, which are performed by an actress and two actors. The role of Macbeth is played by an actress to show his irresolution. The role of Lady of Macbeth is played by an actor to show his ambition and lust. Another actor plays the roles of Banquo, Macduff and Fleance. The sound of the three witches haunts the slaughterhouse with the prophesy of their life and the incantation of the tragic ending. With feminine voice and masculine voice appearing alternately, the audience can imagine the constantly changing images of the three withes.

The play makes the audience breathless. Brutality, bloodiness and sex are all presented in it. The director is brave enough to challenge the conservative mode of modern Chinese drama. Every time when Macbeth is too weak in mind to kill the king Duncan, Lady Macbeth will persuade and tempt him by having sex with him. The three different bold postures of having sex made the old generation theatre critics feel a little bit unacceptable according to the feedback the director Mr. Dalian Chen has recieved. After the performance, a heated discussion between the director, players and the audience was somehow like an academic seminar. One of the audience said she could not understand why the noble and brave general Macbeth could be instigated by his greedy wife to commit the murder until she watched the play.

The death of Duncan and Macbeth is presented by starting an electronic motor saw. Dazzling sparks, pungent smell and blinding fume make the audience feel overwhelmed by the tension of the slaughter. The roles of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are exchanged with each other twice to show the masculine power of Macbeth after he becomes the king. This ingenious idea is to ask the audience to put their attention out of the play and think about who Macbeth really is. Macbeth may be me, you, him or her.   


In order to dig out the real state of characters’ internal psychological logic, the director adopts a special way of stage expression which is often used in freehand brush work in traditional Chinese painting. It is also the main principle for visual design of the performing space. With the distinctive and innovative conception, the stage designer creates a workshop of the slaughterhouse as the main performing space. Many slaughtered bodies of pigs are hung on the red vertical chains in the workshop. There are a working table and two chairs, the common stage properties in traditional Chinese operas, set in the washing pool in the middle of the stage. With the aesthetic effect of dominant characteristics of animal bodies, it motivates the associative imagination of the audience, thus creating the expected theatrical effects.

The design of the setting and the costumes of the players help to elevate the aesthetic value of the play. With the unfolding of the dramatic situations, the play shows the inner conflict, the struggle, the misery and the desperation of the couple Macbeth when they kill the king Duncan, Banquo and the whole family of Macduff. The tension of the relationship between the characters shows the absurdness of life brought by the ambitious lust.

The high-tech lamps with special effects are used to create the awful, depressing and bloody atmosphere . The mottled and blurred shed of light in the workshop of the slaughterhouse is projected on the players. At the crucial moments of the play, colorful light is used to make a surprising visual change on the hanging equipments in the performing space. In this way, the inner spiritual world of the characters is expressed externally. The cadence and mood of the play are all created by the lighting system of “vision of mind”.

After watching the play, one was totally put into the atmosphere of hopeless oppression and would realize that at the crucial time of life, a momentary slip would make you doomed eternally. To be kind or evil, upright or sinful? That is the question., At the instant of slipping down, should one control the lust and get rid of the temptation or step onto the wrong road and never return back? Without thinking of the question, everyone can be Macbeth.


The views expressed in this post are the author’s own.

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