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REVIEW: Artist Playground’s “Prelude to Macbeth”

REVIEW: Artist Playground’s “Prelude to Macbeth”

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If you are not familiar with the stage play Macbeth, fret not. Even with no prior knowledge of one of Shakespeare’s classic plays, quite surprisingly, Artist Playground’s staging of James Palmer’s “Prelude to Macbeth” does not feel intimidating and archaic. For this, I give credit to director Roeder Camañag for passionately taking the risk of mounting this piece. During the press preview, he articulated that the objective behind this decision was to train his “players” (that is what they call themselves in Artist Playground) not just in contemporary work but also in classic plays with heightened literature such as Shakespeare.

Prelude to Macbeth

Prelude to Macbeth

Palmer’s play, as the title suggests, is about the events leading to Macbeth’s engagement to Lorna Stewart and his appointment as Thane of Glamis. The play develops two story arcs. The first one is that of Macbeth who became devastated by the death of his first wife, which then resulted to his reluctance to continue serving as one of Duncan’s (King of Scotland ) most trusted soldiers. The second story is of a lady named Lorna Stewart who, after abandoning her child in the wilderness, was prophesized by three spirits to become future Queen of Scotland.

With the enormous challenge of acting through heightened language, Camañag immediately sought help from New York-trained speech and voice coach Banaue Miclat-Janssen to train his actors to get comfortable with line delivery. Miclat-Janssen praised the cast for showing immense improvement, but what we saw are actors who are still trying to hone this particular skill. Some of the performances, particularly those of Mitoy Sta. Ana (Duncan) and resident Artist Playground talent, Paul Jake Paule (Macbeth) feels difficult to watch primarily because of their uneasiness with the language.

Relative newcomer Jernice Matunan (as Lorna) and the three actors who played the spirits, namely Tasha Guerrero, Princess Tuason, and Jeremy Cabansag, were the ones who seemed the most at ease with their lines. Guerrero, Tuason, and Cabansag, in fact, were such pros onstage that they never snapped out of character even when they were merely onlookers. This production’s entertainment value rested strongly on these ensemble members’ unwavering commitment to their roles.

One also cannot help but wonder how this play would turn out if this was staged in a more elevated space, or a proscenium. Because Macbeth’s story transpired at that time in history when people belonging to a particular class in a society interact differently with those not in the same social class, the intimacy of the venue somehow diminishes this particular nuance of an Elizabethan play. Case in point, Callum (played by Jarden de Guzman), the gatekeeper, will interact differently towards Macbeth compared with the destitute Lorna.

This writer may not be in love with this show, but Artist Playground, as pointed out by Camañag, is all about fostering creativity and experimentation. While staging heightened language felt like a premature attempt at classics, it could be seen as a learning curve.

Prelude to Macbeth has performances on February 23, 24, 25, and 26, 2017 at 1701 The Little Room Upstairs, Landsdale Tower, Mother Ignacia Avenue, Quezon City. One of their upcoming productions for their third season is “M Episode,” which is a double feature – the restaging of Prelude to Macbeth, to be followed by a full-blown production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

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