In one of several direct addresses to the audience throughout Tunisian theatre company Artistes Producteurs Associés’ unique take on the Bard, a character suggests that Shakespeare had something of the Arab spirit in him. There is certainly a parallel to be traced between the murderous ambition of Macbeth and the efforts of deposed Tunisian dictator President Zine El Abadine Ben Ali and his wife Leïla to clutch onto power, a parallel that has led this company to project recent events onto the canvas of the Scottish play, but this is where any true similarities between the political history of Tunisia and Shakespeare’s bloody tragedy end.
The effect, while often visually striking, as when Ben and Leïla submerge their heads in bowls of blood, can equally be bewildering
The same speaker also suggests that his nation is becoming schizophrenic, and a similar assessment might be made of this production. Not only is Macbeth mashed up with Tunisian politics; scenes are intersected with projected interviews or backed by film sequences and music, competing images tussle on stage, theatrical techniques – puppetry, projection, monologue, song – pile up with the bodies. The effect, while often visually striking, as when Ben and Leïla submerge their heads in bowls of blood, can equally be bewildering.
Yet there is, for all the confusion and the fast and loose treatment of Shakespeare’s text, something arresting and deeply poignant about these artists raising their voices. A gagged actor standing in front of a screen of text is a stark and potent reminder of artistic censorship, while the desire to relate events from the perspective of “the people” adds resonance to the piece’s competing influences; they all want to speak up, but those voices overlap and snag on one another. The worry is that the lack of coherence, however appropriate, injures the aim. This is a bold act of speaking out, but ultimately a muddled one.
*** (3 stars)
Runs until 14th July