Theatre academia distilled into a metatheatrical production by way of Macbeth.
Edith Podesta is one of our local theatre scene’s most exciting directors. Never one to simply present a straightforward work, a production by Podesta is almost always surprising, subverting audience expectations as she pushes theatrical boundaries both visually and conceptually.
And so it is that as director of W!ld Rice’s latest batch of Young & W!ld trainees, Podesta has gone above and beyond the traditional form of a graduation show, deconstructing the very idea to not only present a newly devised work to showcase each of the 19 youths, but also, a metatheatrical one that seems to chart their journey as young artmakers over the last year of training.
Taking its title from Peter Brooks’ two rules for a stage space, Anything Can Happen/Something Must Happen is an experimental piece that closely examines the very definition of theatre through various academic writings, applying a medley of techniques and staging styles to Shakespeare’s Macbeth. As its title suggests, what this results in is a grab bag of a performance, keeping audience members constantly on their toes as they watch the play unfold before them, never quite sure what kind of twist or trick the performers will pull next.
Anything Can Happen/Something Must Happen at first feels like a performance-lecture, taking and explaining quotes from Brooks’ seminal work The Empty Space while providing visual context as they apply these writings to the physical space before us. The work itself defies any and all theatrical convention, from initially defining roles with cardboard signs scrawled over in black marker, to having the audience get up midway and expanding the performance space. Under Edith’s direction, Aliwal Arts Centre and even the space outside of it becomes a seemingly limitless play area, a sign displaying the word ‘disbelief’ quite literally being suspended in midair, showing us that ‘anything can happen’ in theatre.
All 19 actors, dressed similarly in white tees and blue jeans, are treated as equals in this space, each one with their own individual strengths and roles to play out, and given equal opportunity to shine throughout the performance. Under Edith’s direction, strengths are amplified while weaknesses (still evident in some of the performances) are swept under the rug. Azura Farid, for instance, shines with the clarity and confidence in her voice as she reads off the critical analysis of Macbeth, while Benjamin Lye is given the comedic role of the Porter, focusing instead on his physicality in an over the top mid-play dance interlude set to Todrick Hall’s ‘Nails, Hair, Hips, Heels’. Izzul Irfan and Zulfiqar Izzudin, taking on two very different voices as they read off analyses of Macbeth, play well off of each other, the former delivering intellect and the latter casual charm.
In terms of actual acting, major roles are shared amongst several cast members, with Eve Voigtlander standing out as the strongest Lady Macbeth amongst the group, performing some of the villainess’ most iconic lines as she drips with venom and supernatural rage. Meanwhile, amidst the Macbeths, it is Shannen Tan’s brief scene which unexpectedly captures our attention with her non-traditional approach to the character. Here, she differentiates herself from the others by toning down on the dramatics, instead giving Macbeth an understated air of quiet confidence at his most vicious, utterly remorseless and calm.
Shakespeare, by nature, is a difficult type of text to both perform and watch, and where the performance begins to lose steam is when it deviates from the lecture-performance format, with the actors playing it ‘straight’, particularly towards the end where it feels as if the cast is simply trying to get through the final act.
Where Anything Can Happen/Something Must Happen works most effectively then is when it instead indulges itself completely in its budget, ‘guerrilla’ style of theatre, reimagining the text and taking on an abstract interpretation, such as performing a scene entirely using the contents of performers’ wallets (including NRICs, coins and a condom). Some of the most beautiful scenes also come from the ensemble work, such as a series of blackouts interspersed with varying types of ‘silences’ described onscreen, accompanied by the cast frozen in motion. In terms of the design elements, Bani Haykal and Tai Zi Feng contribute evocative sound and lighting respectively that help thrust audiences further into the surreal version of Macbeth before us.
Anything Can Happen/Something Must Happen can be a challenging work to access, combining the foreign-ness and length of a Shakespeare text with the cerebral nature of a production helmed by Edith Podesta. But for those who appreciate what it attempts to do, it is immensely rewarding. Watching the massive cast of 19 onstage glow with pride as they work through theory, practice and performance, eventually becoming independent of these academic texts they initially referred to, feels like an intentional parallel to the same journey of growth into independent theatremakers in their own right.
With Edith’s first year heading the Young & W!ld programme, the visionary director has proven that she is more than capable of leading these youths towards bettering themselves artistically, one that we look forward to seeing continue in the cohorts to come. If anything, this production certainly marks a promising step forward for some of these young artists who will no doubt leave their own impact in the local theatre scene in the years to come.
Photo Credit: W!ld Rice
Performance attended 6/7/19 (Matinee)
Anything Can Happen/Something Must Happen played from 4th to 7th July 2019 at Aliwal Arts Centre.
To find out more about W!ld Rice’s upcoming Grand Opening season at Funan Theatre, visit their website here