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by Rebecca Watson
Though set in medieval Scotland, Macbeth has frequently been used as a tool for insight and critique of contemporary politics all over the world.
1 Macbeth on the Estate—United Kingdom, 1997
Penny Woolcock’s movie for BBC imagines Macbeth in modern day on British council estate housing, filled with drug dealers and rival families.
2 uMabatha—South Africa, 1970
This South African production was conceived during apartheid and its original audiences sat segregated. Setting the action in 19th-century Zulu tribal cultures, uMabatha tapped into ancestral storytelling traditions and depicted the colonial influence on them. It’s since been revived around the world multiple times, most recently playing in London in 2002.
3 Macbeth—United Kingdom, 2007
Chichester Festival Theatre’s Patrick Stewart-led production placed the action in a brutalist Soviet bunker in the 1940s, evoking echoes of Stalin’s rise to power. Stewart’s nihilistic Macbeth was ruthless yet introspective, spurred on by a trio of witches disguised as hospital nurses. An instantly classic reformulation, Rupert Goold’s production was later filmed for a 2010 BBC and Masterpiece Theatre special.
4 Maqbool—India, 2003
Vishal Bhardwaj’s film adaptation brings Shakespeare’s tale to the underworld of Mumbai, putting a spin on both the Bard’s tale and organized crime stories.
5 Stage of Blood—India, 1997
Merging traditions from martial arts, dance and gymnastics in Manipur, this adaptation was performed on a raft floating on a lake in celebration of 50 years of Indian independence. Tapping into the spirituality of the text, the production emphasized both its mysticism and its treatment of cyclical political violence.
6 Kunju Macbeth or Blood-Stained Hands—China, 1986
Huang Zuolin’s adaptation in the Chinese musical style of kunju was part of the inaugural Chinese Shakespeare Festival and used traditional Chinese operatic costumes and staging. Set in ancient China, the production was meant to be interpreted like a genuine Chinese history play, mirroring the horrific deaths of members of the Chinese royal family throughout history.
7 Throne of Blood—Japan, 1957
Set in feudal Japan, Akira Kurosawa’s film Throne of Blood, or Spider Web Castle, fuses together Shakespeare’s plot with Japanese Noh dance theatre traditions.
8 Tlingit Macbeth—United States, 2003
Spoken in a combination of southeastern Alaskan dialect Tlingit and English, Perseverance Theatre filled Shakespeare’s text with symbols and traditions indigenous to the Tlingit people. Transporting the Bard’s Scottish characters to the ancient tribal societies in northwest America, the production emphasized the tensions between personal ambition and collective identity. Directed by Anita Maynard-Losh, this show was part of D.C.’s Shakespeare in Washington Festival in 2007.