About This Clip
Darkness and red lighting kicks off the murderous and phantasmagorical mood in this puppet theatre production of Macbeth. Although hardly noticeable in the video recording, a horde of idle, motionless puppets furnish the venue, surrounding the audience – and like the audience and like Macbeth, look on, unable to dissuade fate. Puppeteering is, on many levels, a rather fitting form of staging the Scottish Thane-Become-King.
Teatro de Marionetas do Porto is a puppet company renowned in Portugal for its long track record in experimental productions. Notwithstanding, Macbeth was the play that, in 2001, made them go back to basics and focus on the text and narrative, distancing themselves from their trademark processes of formal and technical exploration. The struggle with form was here reversed, since the company soon discovered that they would have to veer away from technical development and towards blunter simplicity: Shakespeare’s words being admittedly so strong that the puppets had to submit to the more common role of becoming a means to them.
According to at-the-time and lifelong company director João Paulo Seara Cardoso, while the text was streamlined to focus on the plot and Macbeth’s motivations, the puppets grew to brutish, quasi-human-sized puppets. These metre-tall figures, handcrafted by Júlio Vanzeler, were nothing like the company’s former sophisticated puppets (each manoeuvred by 3 actors using 5 rods), which were capable of “delicate and agile gestures”. Only the three witches lithely dance, jump and fly, propelled by rods like backward, cackling fairies. Such gracefulness proved catastrophic in rehearsals, and gave way to bulky wooden creatures firmly clutched by the back of the head by a troupe of only four actors standing directly behind the puppets. This crude form of (very close) manipulation of the puppets promotes a simultaneously intimate and raw interpretation.
Another element that fosters such intimacy is the option for headset microphones, whereby actors can speak very softly and nonetheless maintain a booming and ominous tone. A suite of fifty-six sampled sounds, from ravens to thunder and more abstract textures, have been carefully orchestrated to enhance text, moods and movement, and add to the unnerving atmosphere, further harnessing onlookers onto Macbeth’s disturbed world. In terms of visual enhancements, video projections of both actors and puppets’ faces are displayed on a large screen, reeling the spectator deeper into the psychological dimension of the monologues. Actors are invisibly dressed in black, only hands and faces standing out, the former choking, the latter either lingering unnoticed behind the puppets’ faces or emerging next to them in a showcase of duplicity and manipulation.
Duplicity and manipulation are probably connected to one of the reasons why Cardoso chose to stage this play: its insights into absolute power. At the time, he has said, it echoed the Balkans war in Europe. Nowadays the play’s echoes may play a different, but just as resounding, tune. As Cardoso also claimed, “If we think about it, there are, and always will be, many Macbeths.”
Description provided by Bernardo Palmeirim. He teaches English and Creative Writing in English at the School of Arts and Humanities of the University of Lisbon, is a researcher at the School’s Centre for English Studies (ULICES) and holds a PhD in Theory of Literature titled “What is Poetic Attention” (2014, ULisbon).
The company website has additional information about this production.
Cast and Crew
Text: William Shakespeare.
Translation: João Palma-Ferreira.
Actors: Edgard Fernandes, João Paulo Seara Cardoso, Marta Nunes, Sérgio Rolo.
Puppets and costumes: Júlio Vanzeler.
Sound: Roberto Neulichedl.
Light Design: Jorge Costa.
Production: Sofia Carvalho.
Sound operation: Ioclécio Azevedo.
Light operation: Rui Pedro Rodrigues.
Painting of Puppets: Emília Sousa.
Production assistant: Paula Anabela Silva.
Director’s assistant: Joclécio Azevedo.
Movement: Isabel Barros.
Construction coordination: Marcelo Lafontana.
Construction: Abílio Sílva, Alexandra Pires, Júlio Alves, Rui Rodrigues, Vitor Silva.
Costume maker: Branca Elíseo.
Set design construction: Américo Castanheira, Tudo Faço.
Graphic design: Júlio Vanzeler.
Photography: Susana Paiva.
Production notes provided by Maria Sequeira Mendes, Assistant Professor, School of Arts and Humanities – University of Lisbon.