Heiner Müller retranslated Shakespeare’s drama in the 1970s, but stayed very close to the story itself. The big difference is not only the language, which in Müller’s case – just as in Shakespeare’s – you first have to get used to. Müller shortens the story around the attainment of the royal crown of Scotland and thus creates a stronger focus on the horror of the events themselves. At the same time, however, he introduces another level of characters and refers to the serfdom of the peasants, their dependence on their masters, but also to their brutality, which is no different from that of the authorities.
Stephan Rottkamp proceeds similarly in his stage version. He also saves characters, which means a further condensation, and at the beginning he lets fog billow out of the cold storage of a slaughterhouse. Even the first character, a soldier who comes from the battle and reports on it, appears naked and bloody. The disturbance he causes, however, is only a small foretaste of what is to come.
Macbeth at the Schauspiehaus Graz (Photo: © Lex Karelly)
Although Scotland’s ruler, King Duncan, is dressed in fine cloth, one also recognises traces of blood on his legs and arms and begins to understand: He, who no longer has to take part in battles and only learns of the outcome from messengers, has built his power as much on murder and manslaughter as those who will follow after him. (Costumes Esther Geremus)
With an abstract but effective and very aesthetic stage set (Robert Schweer), it is possible to transfer the action from Duncan’s royal court to Macbeth’s castle in just a few moments. Large white cuboids stretching across the stage are raised and lowered to rhythmise the space.
The casting of Macbeth by Florian Köhler and Lady Macbeth, Sarah Sophia Meyer, visually creates a pair of opposites that nevertheless complement each other perfectly. Meyer manages to pull out many character stops without any great discernible emotion. She spans the spectrum from the power-obsessed whisperer of death to the frightened and retreating consort who begins to fear her own husband.
Florian Köhler’s Macbeth is neither a simple character nor a one-dimensional murderer. He vacillates between a hesitant, thoughtful man who is urged by his wife to murder the king and a character obsessed with power who does not shy away from having friends, as well as wives and children, murdered. The more the game progresses, the more he murders and has murders committed, the more unscrupulous he becomes. The permeability of Köhler’s play is particularly impressive. In a scene in which he treats his former friend Banquo as if he were far inferior to him, one senses a lot of humanity in Köhler alias Macbeth: pleasure and joy in the play on the one hand, but also pleasure and joy in a special kind of humiliation. That Macbeth is also capable of atrocities away from the battlefield becomes clear shortly after the play begins. There he tortures – with the active support of his wife – a peasant who cannot pay his taxes. It is one of the most brutal scenes of the production, for which one needs good nerves, or to keep one’s eyes closed until the screams of the tortured man fall silent. It is this realistic rendering, this bloodthirsty depiction of extreme brutality, that leaves one breathless. But there are also images like that of Macbeth, who as a stumbling king, wading in blood, loses his balance and falls to the ground again and again, slithering and swaying with his oversized ermine cape. Here, the emotion of the audience tips from disgust to pity, from hatred to empathy, which corresponds to an emotional roller coaster.
The action – except for the very last act – is accompanied throughout by sound and music. (Nikolas Neecke). Theatre has learned a lot from film in recent years and Rottkamp skilfully uses this additional layer to subtly intensify what is shown emotionally. With a classic of pop history – “Stuck in the middle with you” by the British pop band Stealers Wheel from the 1970s – the portrayal of Macbeth, his fear for the preservation of his unjustly acquired throne, is given a new drive. “I’m so scared in case I fall off my chair and I’m wondering how I’ll get down the stairs” is one of the lyrics from it. Not only do the lyrics seem like they were written for Macbeth, but the funny musical interlude is also well placed dramaturgically. For a short time, it relieves the audience of the heaviness of the blood-soaked story and allows a breather before the next murders are carried out by the two hired men, who are still dancing happily to the music with their king.
The fact that the end of Macbeth and his wife is shown without sound accompaniment causes a final, but all the more intense irritation. It gives the feeling that reality is now beginning to overtake the play. The death of Lady Macbeth is accompanied by a powerful image – she falls silently to the ground with her face covered in blood. But the spectacularly unspectacular exit of the king himself is just as unexpected as it is unconventional.
It is extremely painful that we find so many parallels in real political world events today. The theatre critic and dramaturge Martin Linzer described a similar experience in a 1983 issue of ‘Theater in der Zeit’. “Ten years after the writing of the text (note – the text by Heiner Müller is meant), the world is burning in many corners, the massacres in Beirut are happening before the eyes of the world, humanity is threatened by the madness of nuclear armament.” And a part of the very readable interview with Stephan Rottkamp, printed in the programme booklet, should also be quoted here: “We have enough despots who have seized power with a small clique and ruthlessly pursue their own goals. Of course, this will not be seen “one-to-one” on stage. But Assad, Orbán, Trump, such names naturally come up in the conversations during the rehearsal. The play is very topical in that it exposes these power mechanisms. They applied in Macbeth’s lifetime in the Middle Ages just as they did in Shakespeare’s time at the beginning of the 17th century. And they still apply today; it goes on and on. So it’s a noble duty to show that on stage today.”
While it is not a duty to see the play, if it is, it is imperative to talk about it and bring it to the attention of as many people as possible. You won’t see another Macbeth on a German-language stage any time soon that is more emotional and at the same time more intelligent, more contradictory and at the same time more coherent, more powerful in its imagery and more powerful in its sound.
The cast: DUNCAN, MACDUFF Alexej Lochmann, SOLDAT Oliver Chomik,LENNOX, 2nd MURDERER Henriette Blumenau MALCOLM, 1st MURDERER, HEXE Nanette Waidmann FLEANCE, LORD, HEXE Daria von Loewenich, ROSSE, SOLDAT, HEXE Frieder Langenberger
This text has been automatically translated with deepl.com