Outside the Central Hotel it‘s bucketing down. my shoes are soggy. my jacket is damp and Nigel Jamieson is telling me about Bali. ‘lt‘s unbelievably luxuriant.‘ he says. ‘the leaves. the palm trees. the coloured plants. I thought there‘s no space in this humming world. it‘s so full.‘
Seems strange then. that he‘s here in Glasgow. a city not known for its exotic colour. Stranger still that he should have brought with him a Balinese-tinged production of Shakespeare‘s Macbeth. And you always thought it was the .S'cottish play. But Jamieson. with ginger moustache and tweedy. casual suit. has fallen for the arty charm ofthis cultural city. He‘s in town as a tourist and he‘s praising the city to its damp skies. He‘s even been in one of those taxi cabs reserved for the exclusive use oftourists.
‘Yesterday. I was talking to a taxi driver.‘ he says. ‘He was going on about Mackintosh and his relationship with Art Deco. I said. well it‘s your money that‘s being poured into all this City ofCulture stuff. do you approve of it'.’ He was all for it and that‘s lovely to hear. There‘s a mood ofthings getting better and more interesting as opposed to things getting worse.‘
It‘s the opposite of his experience of his native London where lack of money and suitable performance spaces have made it virtually impossible to stage the play. His second visit to The Tramway to see Peter Brook‘s Carmen brought him into contact with 1990s Neil Wallace and people from the Scottish Arts Council whose attitude was to get straight to work putting it on. ‘In Glasgow you can go to the most beautiful space.‘ he says. ‘and there‘s the enthusiasm to make it happen.
After sunning the great thane in Bali. Odyssey Theatre bring the ‘Scottish Play’to Glasgow. Mark Fisher goes trOpical with director Nigel Jamieson.
The production is perfect forThe l Tramway which is in a league ofits own. The brick has a fantastic colour ofwarm earth and since they‘ve blasted all the paint off the walls. it‘s not hard and bright. but soft and absorbent. It's well-lived in and it‘s got a sense of history and life to it.‘ With seemingly every theatre in Scotland putting on a Macbeth at the moment. it‘s tempting to suggest that Jamieson‘s venture is just an expensive and superficial gimmick to find a new angle on a well-worn play. He is. however. quick to refute the idea. ‘Ifyou really need an excuse to do the play.‘ he says. ‘then you shouldn‘t be doing it. To say. “I‘ll do it Balinese“ is crass. People ask me why I didn’t do it in a traditional way.
. but whose tradition do they mean’.’
What they really want is for it to be done the way it was when they were sixteen. The real problem is to ask how we should tackle this business of. say, witchcraft. Where do we
locate our inspirations and our
Jamieson located his inspirations on the Indonesian island of Bali. a place rich in tradition and the last stronghold of the Hindu religion outside India. He‘d been on a British Council teaching tourofplaces like Hong Kong. Thailand and Java. and his final port ofcall was the Academy of Drama and Dance in Bali. ‘1 was invited to a theatre show one Sunday afternoon in the King‘s Palace.‘ he explains. ‘I was sitting there amidst all these colours. the earth. the sky. the moon. the birds. thinking these people have got all this nature to draw on. What a dream it would be to rehearse in this sort of environment rather than your usual church hall in the city. Suddenly— f)()fllj".’— I thought. my God.
financially it could be a feasible
MURDER HE WR
proposition . . .‘
Returning to London to rejig his sums. Jamieson calculated that flying a group ofactors to Bali. where the whole cast could be put up for about £50 a week. costumes could be made from local materials and musical instruments would be immediately to hand. would work out a lot cheaper than ﬂying teachers over to Britain and paying £50 per person per night in hotel bills. His re-budgetted amount fora six-week training and research period was some £8000 less than the figure originally tendered to the Arts Council.
"l‘he show isn‘t trying to do a Balinese Macbeth.‘ he explains. ‘What we‘ve done is face ourselves with a whole series of inspirations of colour. tradition and culture. Often it makes you more aware ofyour own culture to step outside it.‘ For the Westerner. the major cultural difference is the Balinese attitude to the spirit world. During religious festivals offerings are left under bushes around the town and family feuds will be settled by exorcizing evil spirits in the domestic temple. This respectful and day-to-day approach was an obvious thing to draw on when developing the mystical elements of Macbeth.
‘The whole company worked on the witches scenes.‘ says Jamieson. ‘I split them into groups ofthree. ()ne lot did the scenes down an incredible ravine. They came up through the water. covered in mud. and did it on this series of rocks. right in the middle ofthis rushing river. There was this old man washing himself further upstream looking totally bemused. Another group did the scenes in the temple with these extraordinary utensils they make all the offerings with.‘
6 The ileov—emberLT—December 1989
L . they‘re really good fun and they‘re
The company inevitably picked up local dances. discoveredtraditional music and found fabrics. banners. even umbrellas to suit their purpose. But Jamieson was always quick to respect the needs of the play. with all its horror and despair. before trying to decorate it with unneccesary cultural souvenirs. ‘We could have used their traditional masks.‘ he says. ‘but I‘m not frightened by them. They‘re terribly colourful.
wonderful dancers underneath them. but they‘re not that much to do with a play that‘s got to hurtle along and that isn‘t about Bali. It would have been banal for us to have done that.‘
Not only that. but in this humid. tropical climate there is no shortage ofgiant spiders. huge rats. scabby dogs and public slaughter. to tin-nerve the most hardy of travellers. The result is a Macbeth of visual vitality. that respects the brilliance ofthe poetry while feeding in new inspirations that bring the play alive to a modern audience. To achieve this. Jamieson has had a knack ofbeing in the right place at the right time. but he‘s also had to think big and stick his neck out and it has paid off. ‘We need this sort of feeding of our theatre.‘ he says. ‘whether it works or not — we need to be bold. I‘m not saying everyone should go off and rehearse in Bali. but it‘s an example of lateral thinking. In really difficult times. you need to approach every problem freshly.‘
Odyssey Theatre '5 Macbeth is at The Tramway Theatre. Glasgow, from Wed 2‘) Nov until Sat 9 Decal 7.30pm. £6.50 (£3.50).