PARIS – Mansai Nomura’s recent staging of “Macbeth” at the Maison de la culture du Japon in Paris drew a varied and enthusiastic audience.
The beautiful, restrained production reflected the intensity of the events leading up to and from Macbeth’s murder of King Duncan. And as the director and star later told us in his post-performance Q&A for which almost the whole audience remained, the Paris theater is much smaller than the company’s home at the Setagaya Public Theatre in Tokyo, and so everything, including the sensations, was condensed.
The range of questions demonstrated the depth of interest in this adaptation of Shakespeare’s shortest (but very bloody) play. Nomura was asked about his interest in combining theatrical forms, about noh, and about melding it with kyōgen. Then when it was suggested that butoh had influenced his interpretation, Nomura entirely agreed.
On stage the three actors who played the witches, the lords and guards — all the characters save Macbeth and his wife — brought incredible energy to their various roles, and a physicality in the portrayal of the witches that was at times mesmerizing.
This English play about Scotland, performed in Japanese in Paris with French subtitles by a group from Tokyo was Shakespeare’s first play of the 17th century, yet in the 21st century it brought together theatrical forms from East and West, melding spatial and temporal elements.
Space and time are ever present in the play: the witches tell Macbeth of his future and it moves toward him — physically in the shape of Duncan — and the deed will not leave him; he is trapped in a moment, his world reduced to a microcosm when he took the king’s life.
Nomura plays with the psychological aspect of the story in his melding of kyogen and noh elements — theatrical forms both established at the time “Macbeth” was first staged in 1606. The duality that he explained is integral to kyōgen he focused on the Macbeth couple. Theirs is a two-person universe, and he created, he said, an oeil de boeuf — an opening from the exterior to the interior, a door to another world — as in noh.
Meanwhile, comic effect comes from the witches, and the nature that marks the time passing is beautifully brought to life as leaves fall from the sky during the final battle (though Nomura charmingly asked the audience not to take any home since they were so expensive — but the paper snow we could freely pocket).
It was, as one audience member told me, a “tres belle mise en scene” — a “very beautiful production.”