Seasoned theatre provocateur BRETT BAILEY is at it again. The director will present his personal take on Verdi’s ‘Macbeth’ at the Artscape Theatre from Wednesday, April, 23, until Saturday, April, 26, at 8.15pm nightly. Bailey is known for such genre pushing works as ‘Ipi Zombi’, ‘iMumbo Jumbo’ and ‘House of The Holy Afro’.
PETER TROMP chatted to BAILEY upon the eve of his return to the Cape Town stage.
When did you discover your love of theatre?
I got involved in a group called the Pupils Awareness and Action Group (PAAG) when I was in Standard 9, but kind of fell into theatre at university, and from then on my mind was full of ideas for making performances.
What do you count among your personal highlights so far in your career?
It’s difficult to single out highlights – every production has been incredible to work on, in terms of the material and the people involved at every level. Third World Bunfight has presented very different shows in so many cities in so many European countries, including France, Holland, Austria, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Sweden, Poland, the UK, and all have been high points for me.
The press release for the production promises “a radical take on Verdi’s ‘Macbeth’”. Can you tease us a little as to what audiences can look forward to?
I’ve taken Shakespeare’s story of ambition, treachery and witchcraft and set it in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa, amongst the wars and ruthless exploitation that tear that invisible corner of the world apart. Within a milieu of multinational double-dealings, ethnic conflict, brutal militia, ‘blood minerals’ and glittering Chinese imports, a Congolese warlord and his ambitious wife murder their leader and unleash atrocities on the crumbling African province that they seize. This interpretation of ‘Macbeth’ is a tightly honed audio-visual performance piece. Verdi’s gorgeous music has been rewritten for 12 musicians and 10 singers. It zooms right into the heart of the horror in the war-ridden eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where more people have died than in any conflict since World War II. It strikes out at the multinational corporations and neighbouring governments that fuel the conflict with their demand for minerals in the territory. The undertone is outrage at this situation that receives such scant attention in the global media.
You have a very distinct artistic voice in the local theatre world. How would you describe your style, or even the themes that fascinate you?
I always felt that theatre had the potential to enthral and move people much more than what I witnessed in so many performances. I think that awareness – political, social, aesthetic – is one of the most important qualities in an artist. I believe that one of my functions as an artist and as a human being that cares for the world we live in and for justice and equality, is to shake up the lazy, prejudiced, fearful beast that is society.
I really believe that theatre can have the power to make a difference in our world, and I drive myself to make multi-layered, deep, conscious works. All of my recent works arise out of the consciousness that informs that message. I like to burrow beneath the surface and see what has been hidden away in the darkness. Who has been marginalized, silenced, crushed? Who are the perpetrators of this violence? What are their agendas?
Of late, we have seen fewer productions of yours on the local stage than we were accustomed to in the past. What have you been busying yourself with in recent years?
I spend six to seven months overseas a year, either busy with my works or scouting new venues. It is deeply saddening that a company like ours, which is in demand all over Europe – ‘Macbeth’ will be presented in 10 European cities this year – can barely ever show our works at home. We have a great and expanding network of presenters (sic) in Europe, and skimming the tiny layer of cream off the proceeds of these tours – and with support from Artscape – has enabled us to present ‘Macbeth’ in Cape Town during this month.
Finally, please complete the following: Favourite movie; book; music album; song; midnight snack; holiday destination; lunch spot; Cape Town hangout.
Favourite movie: ‘Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring’
Book: ‘Austerlitz’ by W.G. Sebald
Music album: ‘Trouble Will Find Me’ – The National
Song: ‘Ana Na Ming’ – Salif Keita
Midnight snack: uncooked pasta
Holiday destination: Namibia
Lunch spot: Home
Cape Town hangout: Newlands Forest
* Book at Computicket.