Black Friars Theatre has been working for the past 10 years in South Auckland to ‘re-story’ conventional narratives. Their production of Macbeth was no exception. Under the direction of Billy Revell and Michelle Johansson, the company presented a rich, vibrant and uniquely Pasifika re-telling of the classic Shakespearean tragedy.
Set in traverse, the stage was a long corridor that carried its audiences into a pan-Polynesian Hawaiki. A slow whisper of smoke revealed the three witches dressed in traditional Pasifika regalia. Bright eyes, matted hair and swaying movements allowed the weight of indigenous Pasifika histories, myths and legends to settle into the space.
The Bard’s words echoed in the theatre but they were not alone; the deep and powerful voices of a 14-strong choir blended the famous couplets with Pasifika languages into the general business of the play, creating a loud, proud and unequivocally, brown production of our tragic hero.
Amidst a cast of hugely talented performers, the ensemble scenes were among the most powerful and cohesive. The musical direction (Siosaia Folau) and choreography (Theresa Sao) were near impeccable while Viola Johansson’s costumes proved an ongoing delight.
Yes, there were occasional issues with vocal projection and sightlines but the biggest challenge was diction. Lauie Tofia (Macbeth) played the king caught between his own pride and fate; but while both he and Denyce Su’a (Lady Macbeth) gave deeply committed performances, their solos just didn’t quite hit the mark. Jason Manumu’a (Banquo) and Jatinder Singh (Macduff) fared better with more dialogue exchanges; but overall, it was the trio of witches played by secondary school students, Vitinia-Gabrielle Togiatama, Akinehi Munroe, Irene Folau who stole the show.
Set within our own cultural abundance and talent, this was a rare opportunity to experience a distinctive and well executed production of the Scottish play.