By Marcina Zaccaria


Yuko Ninagawa directs a captivating production of Macbeth at this year’s Lincoln Center Mostly Mozart Festival.

The script, translated by Yushi Odashima, is astonishingly faithful to Shakespeare’s play. Beginning with three witches, inspired by Kabuki, we enter the dark world. Confetti like snow and flashes of light all contribute to the exploration of what a man of woman born might accomplish. The production, completely in Japanese, is surprisingly accessible to an English speaking audience. Set in feudal Japan, weaponry, sorcery, and large paintings are all part of the mise en scène, where the surprising drama unfolds.

Director Yukio Ninagawa, who passed away in 2016, is able to tap into the deep human connection where motivations turn, revealing the tragedy of the Scottish play. Also tapping into the imagination, the play creates a world for dreamers and artists alike. It is not just a performance only for dance aficionados, acrobats, or those skilled in the marital arts. These performances are all about the acting, with the woe of Macbeth as potent as the battle for power.

With riveting performances, each moment moves splendidly into the next, creating the most surprising succession of image after image. Warriors, seemingly on horseback, play inside the enormous feudal doors. Under the red sun in rooms of tremendous, armed figures and giant spears, wars are discussed and battles are waged. A demon, seated stage center, pulsates. Sword fighting is exciting, and artfully composed for the stage. With performers from Tokyo and other parts of Japan, the company is proficient. Nice touches to the production include flowing use of the aisle spaces, and two, extraordinarily petite women framing all action outside the palace doors.

Masachika Ichimura as Macbeth is strong and capable. With arm gestures that reach from the sky to the floor, everything in this production is a bit more pronounced. Loud music, with choral singing including Buddhist chants, heightens each moment. Striking bolts of light are featured, and the pace is incomparably fast.

The performance of Lady Macbeth is equally astonishing. Her devotion is clearly seen. Brilliantly portrayed by Yuko Tanaka, she is sometimes a tragic victim entering from offstage with candlelight. Finding blood on her hands in the first act, she bargains and pleads, until finally in the last scene, ringing out the “damn spot” of blood.

NINAGAWA Macbeth was triumphantly brought to the Lincoln Center Festival after the production was conceived in 1980. As this production is retired, the Summer at Lincoln Center continues with Lincoln Center Out of Doors and Mostly Mozart. The simultaneous Festivals run into August, making a spectacle of world theater that is unparalleled.

Photos: Takahiro Watanabe


NINAGAWA Macbeth played until July 22 at the David H. Koch Theater at the Mostly Mozart Festival.