Here’s a fun fact: 2016 marked the 400th death anniversary of William Shakespeare. To commemorate this, thespians around the world have restaged the famed playwright’s works, and the local scene, of course, is not to be outdone. Which is why this summer, a staging of Macbeth will take place at the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde.
If you’re wondering if the play is a little late to join the commemorative party, it’s still within the year of Shakespeare’s death anniversary; he died on April 23. To separate itself from the flurry of Shakespearean tributes, the performance at Benilde will use National Artist for Theater and Literature Ronaldo S. Tinio’s translation of the script, titled Makbet. The play will be directed by Nonon Padilla, and headlined by industry veterans George de Jesus III as Makbet and Irma Adlawan as Senyora Makbet. Benilde’s president Br. Dennis Magbanua FSC will also appear in the play as Haring Duncan in his first theater role. (Another fun fact: this is the first time a Brother President will take the stage.)
Before you imagine comparing a tagalized version of an English classic to a badly-dubbed blockbuster on morning TV, Padilla says this version is worth the chance. Aside from it being the only Filipino version of Macbeth, it does a great job of translating Shakespeare into the local idiom, according to Padilla. “Rolando’s Tagalog is sometimes deep, but he is able to find an equivalent in Tagalog idiom of what is in English,” the director says. “Shakespeare is extremely difficult to understand — it’s almost Latin. And here, you have a poet who is able to communicate the thought, as well as the poetic rhythm, to our own idiom. I think it’s wonderful.”
If there’s anything to expect from the play, it’s that it’s not going to be your usual rendition of Macbeth. Aside from using the Tagalog material, the play focuses on a different side of Macbeth, one that veers away from the usual take on the character. “I hope it communicates something much deeper than the normal perception (of Macbeth), which is that it is about ambition. I don’t think I stress that here, more than his obsession with the afterlife,” Padilla shares. “Macbeth as a character has rich, rich imagination, and that’s the thing that keeps him going.” The director also found an interesting parallel with the character and today’s society: “It’s the imagination that fires him (Macbeth) up and keeps him going. I thought it was so fascinating because many of us, especially with the internet, are losing our imagination for other media.”
This duality is not only present in the characters, but in the script as well. De Jesus, who is very much familiar with the work (he directed versions of Macbeth two times), says that this version is unlike anything he’s worked with before. “It’s true, (Macbeth is) always about ambition, so now that we’re doing a different take on it with Sir Nonon, you suddenly understand certain lines na nag-iiba ‘yung meaning. It’s a totally different take on it,” the actor shares.
Apart from the material and direction, what makes this production unique is its collaboration with the students of Benilde. “We love to collaborate,” says Magdalena de Leon, chairperson of the Theater Arts and Production design courses of the college, who also stars in the play as a Bruha. “The main program (involved) is Theater Arts, but we asked the Production Design program to help with the set, costumes, and props; and the Arts Management program students help with marketing and the selling of tickets. The Music Production program, they’re helping in creating music for Makbet,” says de Leon. It’s almost second nature for the college to work with the students, the chairperson says, as it is a rich learning experience for the students. Apart from the actors and director, the students will get to work with other industry stalwarts like Gino Gonzales, who is doing the set and costume design, and lighting consultant Naomi Matsumoto.
Preparations for the show are still underway, and the cast is still in rehearsal. Nevertheless, the script and direction of the play is something to look forward to, and seeing student work stand up along with veterans is always inspiring. And as Shakespeare’s death anniversary draws to a close, Makbet should prove that the local scene is definitely not to be outdone.