This Macbeth’ will haunt you

Philly Fringe review 2016: Third World Bunfight’s Macbeth’ (second review)

3 minute read
Life is but a walking shadow. (Photo by Morne van Zyl and Brett Bailey)
Life is but a walking shadow. (Photo by Morne van Zyl and Brett Bailey)

Third World Bunfight’s critically acclaimed Macbeth stopped by Philadelphia’s Fringe Festival on its way to France last weekend.

The production, known for its Congolese influence and use of South African actors, employs the well-known story of Macbeth (based on Verdi’s opera) in a way that relays a political message to its audience about the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the horrors that exist in a region where the lives of many are perpetually taken for granted by the powers that be.

The model of a modern colonel

Shakespeare often intended his written works to be political allegory, and this Macbeth puts that intention to good, modern use. In director Brett Bailey’s hands, the story not only reveals that power can be vexing, but also teaches us a little bit about Congolese culture and politics. Supertitle translations prove to be quite fitting, modern and straight to the point with occasional humor.

The production deserves every bit of praise it receives. Actors Owen Metsileng and Nobulumko Mngxekeza lead as Macbeth and the Lady with impeccable voices and spirited performances. The others, in the roles of Banquo (Otto Maidi), the Three Witches, and the Chorus deliver well, too, but the production’s emotion is primarily driven by the two leads and the gracefully conducted No Borders Orchestra (Premil Petrovic).

But what is it all for? The production itself is impressive — we’re all familiar with the story of Macbeth — and director Brett Bailey has cunningly translated it to depict the ongoing conflict in the DRC today. Emotionally, it’s nothing short of stimulating. And somehow I left the theater feeling incredibly empty.

What will you do?

The play is informative, raising awareness in all the right ways, reminding its audience of the ongoing carnage in the DRC and the costs behind the cost of luxury. It is simultaneously inspiring and haunting. And yet I couldn’t help feeling guilty seeing what I saw on the stage. Did I really come here to be stimulated? What am I going to do about this conflict? Am I viewing this culture from a completely different side of the world — do I find myself entertained by their struggle, yet unattached?

These are the questions I asked myself as I left my seat in the sold-out audience that night. As I pushed my way through the parting crowd, I heard snippets of conversation.

“Where shall we go for dinner?”

“Did you check the Eagles score?”

There, I was reminded just how detached we really are. Did Brett Bailey’s Macbeth have the same effect as a public service announcement, a political message overlaying tragic portraits of African child soldiers, soon to be forgotten as we return to our regularly scheduled programs? Or worse, was it purely for entertainment’s sake, something to discuss over dinner?

What will you do with this information? It was that question, and not the provocative war imagery, that plagued my mind like a headache on the drive home and followed me into dreamland on Sunday night.

To read Steve Cohen's review, click here.

What, When, Where

Macbeth. Adapted by Fabrizio Cassol from Verdi’s opera and Shakespeare’s play. Conceived, designed, and directed by Brett Bailey. Premil Petrovic conducted. Co-production with Third World Bunfight and Opera Philadelphia in cooperation with FrangeArts. Through Sept. 25, 2016 at the Prince Theater, 1412 Chestnut St., Philadelphia. (215) 732-8400 or

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