Macbeth with doses of humour

(From left) Feng Yang as Banquo, Tian Chong as Macbeth and Zeng Zi Yao as Lady Macbeth play it for laughs in some scenes.
(From left) Feng Yang as Banquo, Tian Chong as Macbeth and Zeng Zi Yao as Lady Macbeth play it for laughs in some scenes. PHOTO: ESPLANADE - THEATRES ON THE BAY

Chinese director Huang Ying's absurdist take on Macbeth looks nothing like the original. It injects humour in spots and adds touches of the contemporary to the age-old Shakespearean tragedy through its staging.

Recognised in China as an up-and-coming director, he has directed multiple Shakespeare plays. His "Eastern satire" version of Macbeth was first staged at the Toga Festival in Japan in 2013 to acclaim.

Huang dresses up his characters in flamboyant outfits. Macduff (Patricio Antonio Liang) sports a slick, coiffed hairstyle and struts about in shades and chews on a lollipop, for instance.

He also has them singing Ben E. King's Stand By Me, which comes on every time a key scene of betrayal occurs. The cast even breaks the fourth wall at one point, handing out mineral water to the audience.

Huang has stuck to the original plot. The translation to modern- day Mandarin is also smooth, though it glosses over some of the Bard's most poetic verses.



    Esplanade Theatre Studio



  • WHERE: Esplanade Theatre Studio

    WHEN: Today, 8pm

    ADMISSION: $35 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to

    INFO: Go to

Macbeth (Tian Chong) enters the scene clad in a dapper white suit and is duly informed of his fate by a witch (Avdeeva Anna) - he is destined to ascend the throne, while his fellow captain Banquo (Feng Yang) will father future Scottish kings.

He is persuaded by his wife, the callous and conniving Lady Macbeth (Zeng Zi Yao), to commit regicide, setting off a chain of events which eventually leads to their demise.

Tian and Zeng are bewitching to watch as a power-hungry couple who plot their way up in the world, often from between the sheets. But they are ultimately felled by their unfettered ambition.

Tian deserves special mention for bringing a menacing intensity to his Macbeth, slowly turning it up to fever-pitch insanity as the play draws on. It is also a role that demands a great deal of physicality, which he executes perfectly.

The ensemble cast is disciplined, sharp and precise in their movements, no doubt the result of training under Japanese theatre practitioner Tadashi Suzuki, whose Suzuki method focuses on using the body.

There are hits and misses in the attempts at humour.

Banquo's ill-fated escape from Macbeth's castle is turned into a madcap caper as he does it in drag, complete with blond wig. The hidden identity also feels like a pointed contrast to Banquo's directness earlier in the play.

But a scene where Macduff and Banquo brandish alarm clocks and electric toothbrushes in the wake of King Duncan's murder feels contrived. Perhaps Huang intended a statement about how we are often sleep-walking even while awake, but the point eludes me.

Nonetheless, this production is a light-hearted, interesting update of a Shakespeare classic, worth catching in the year of the 400th anniversary of the Bard's death.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 18, 2016, with the headline 'Macbeth with doses of humour'. Print Edition | Subscribe