There’s a disease spreading through the world, whose symptoms are unlimited desire, greed and violence. It is contagious and without cure. It is called Macbeth. To comment on wrongs of modern society, theatre director Ratan Thiyam has created one of the most powerful plays to emerge from Manipur recently. “William Shakespeare did not die 400 years ago,” says Thiyam, “He is still alive. He is for all time.”
His Shakespearean protagonists are a tribe of warriors who hold spears like totem poles and wear lofty crowns to protect themselves during wars and intrigues. “They are not a tribe from anywhere and I have created rituals, dances and funeral rites that are their own. Macbeth is a powerful play that allowed me to create a community that has nothing to do with Manipur,” says Thiyam.
The dark subject is reflected in the shadows and an inky black darkness that swallows the stage. “The shade of gloom is very important because of the tragedy taking place,” says Thiyam. When the colour white comes in, it is with all the clinical coldness of nurses’ uniforms. Thiyam has stayed with the bard’s storyline, but for the scene in which nurses push wheelchairs around as a broken Lady Macbeth washes her hands from a hospital bowl. “The disease called Macbeth is not easily diagnosed as it remains hidden inside polluted and corrupt minds. The eruption ultimately is in the form of violence that destroys mankind and peace on Earth,” he says.
The picturesque scenes are an important communicating device in a play where all characters speak only Manipuri. For instance, the witches in the first scene appear to be harmless tree stumps until they rear their heads, wave their root-like arms like poisoned tentacles and wait for Macbeth with their prophecy of kingship. The play ends with sweepers working through the area where Macbeth was killed, thus signifying a ritual cleansing of evil from society.
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