Black lipstick, grommet belts and thrash metal music are an integral part of Rising Sun Theatre’s debut production, William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” So are noh masks, hakama (trousers) and a huge Shinto torii.
This cultural mix is part of what the Nagoya-based company’s founder, Dwayne Lawler, calls his “chameleon approach,” which is aimed at adapting the production to the Japanese environment. Lawler has also pared down the play — already Shakespeare’s shortest — stripping “Macbeth” to a two-act series of powerful, fast-paced scenes.
The action is punctuated by death-metal music from American band Shakespeare in Hell. “Our signature method of presenting Shakespeare with music aims to mainstream the Bard’s work,” says Lawler.
Lawler was born in Sydney, Australia, and got his first taste of acting in a Shakespeare play as a teenager when he played Lorenzo in “The Merchant of Venice.” He majored in Japanese and drama at university in Queensland, and studied acting privately.
“My fondest memories of those years was as a student of the legendary actress, Babette Stephens,” Lawler recalls. “She was a strict disciplinarian from the ‘old school’ of acting. As part of my training I was expected to stand for up to four hours a day, reciting lines from Shakespeare. Mrs. Stephens — never Babette! — would often say, ‘If you want to work in theater you will have to get used to standing!’ How right she was.”
Discipline is fundamental to Lawler’s own approach and it seems to be appreciated by the 12 members of the international company, who come from Japan, England, Canada, Australia, Germany and the United States.
Indeed, there is nothing tentative about this first production from a theater company formed just over a year ago. Rising Sun draws on the focused energy of Lawler, who produces and directs the production, as well as plays the role of Macbeth. But his vision of the play has evolved over time.
According to Lawler, “I originally intended to present a very Westernized production of ‘Macbeth.’ However, as time passed, Japanese influences seeped in.”
Noh masks for the three witches, and seiza sitting postures, have been effectively incorporated in the production, but Lawler drew the line at samurai swords: “I didn’t want to stereotypically ‘Japanize’ Shakespeare.”
Rising Sun Theatre presents “Macbeth” for just one night, Oct. 4, at the Aichi Arts Centre in Sakae, and Lawler hopes the production will tour other cities in Japan during 2004.
The company’s press release indicates Lawler’s ambitions for his company: “Rising Sun Theatre throws down the gauntlet and enters the theatrical arena of Japan to take on all challengers.” (That’ll be a studded leather gauntlet, no doubt.)
Perhaps the first challenger will be found close to home — the Nagoya Players, an English-language theater group that has been around for 25 years. Oliver Millingham and Cameron Smith, who are in the cast of “Macbeth,” will appear as Sebastian and Aguecheek, respectively, in the Nagoya Players production of “Twelfth Night,” to be staged at the Aichi Arts Center, Nov. 15-16.
At any rate, there’ll be only one winner — the theatergoing public.
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