Shakespeare, William. Hecate. Translated by Bracknell, Kylie; Bracknell, Clint. Directed by Bracknell, Kylie, 6 Feb 2020, Subiaco Arts Centre, Perth. Tickets: $25 – $69.
Hecate sparked my curiosity from the start. How would the theatre company Yirra Yaakin perform their version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth in a language most of their audience did not understand? Reclaiming and sharing Noongar language is at the centre of this production, and I was nervous that the language barrier would be insurmountable. As someone who has only been on exchange in Australia for half a year, I have a limited knowledge of Noongar language and culture, but I was thrilled at the opportunity of experiencing more. After receiving the programme with a synopsis of each scene in English I was slightly less nervous, and my fears were finally quelled when the three Mischief Makers (Kyle J. Morrison, Mark Nannup, and Ian Wilkes) came on stage for their original opening scene.
Yirra Yaakin’s first scene fully immersed the audience, with Hecate (Della Rae Morrison) standing alone and regal on a smoky stage. Her song communicated the fear and suffering she shared with the boodjar (land). She called her Mischief Makers on stage and stoked the fire that shone through a hole in the middle of the stage throughout the performance. This powerful opening was followed by a beautiful scene that established the connection between Hecate and Fleance (Cezera Critti-Schnaars). So far, the performance had felt sombre and serious, but when the three Mischief Makers reappeared with dance and games, the audience laughed for the first time and I relaxed. This scene stood out to me because it allowed me to engage in the performance as a whole, rather than to simply view a culturally significant performance as someone who does not come from that culture.
Even as an outsider, it was a profound experience to see and hear a performance in Noongar, and I never felt excluded. Both the plot of Macbeth and Yirra Yaakin’s additional stories for Hecate and Fleance were communicated well. The language barrier was not so much a barrier, as a springboard for engaging with all the aspects of storytelling and performance. I found it helpful to be familiar with the plot of Macbeth, and to have skimmed the programme while waiting for the doors to open. However, the magic of the experience was not dependent on understanding the dialogue.
Experiencing Noongar language was far from the only aspect that made this production shine. Although the physical acting sometimes felt overdone, it helped communicate what was being spoken. The lighting and sound designs also pulled their weight in terms of creating emotions, and the tech crew nailed all of their cues. The blend of human and digital sound worked well, and tied the performance into Aboriginal storytelling traditions. As a scenographer and props-maker, I would have liked Macbeth’s decapitated head to have a bit more weight, but most viewers would probably not notice.
Karla (fire) is at the centre of this year’s Perth Festival and at the centre of Hecate. The stage was covered in cloth strips coming out of a ngarma hole in the centre. The natural greens and soft reddish-browns of the fabric created balance between Shakespearean wooden floorboards and Australian eucalyptus bark, and a dynamic canvas for the lights and the actors. The firepit in the centre was visually stunning, symbolically meaningful, and never forgotten or neglected. Water was used to create the dancing lights of a fire, which amongst other visually and symbolically stunning scenes, allowed Lady Macbeth (Bobbi Henry) to wash her imagined bloody hands in the fire-water of the ngarma hole. This was one of many moments where fire cleansed and healed a sick land and people.
Although fire was a theme throughout, the final scenes burned the brightest. As Malcolm (Mark Nannup) was crowned by Macduff (Ian Wilkes), Hecate crowned Fleance in her own way. The regendering of Fleance was powerful in this scene—a bond formed through time, and the fire burned stronger. As a new generation of leaders emerged, new life was given the chance to grow. The music, song, and symbolism all came together to form a scene that gave me goosebumps.
The whole cast and crew deserved the standing ovation they received after a spectacular opening night. Director and Adaptor Kylie Bracknell, along with all of Yirra Yaakin, have created a production that I hope can go on tour in future, because it deserves to be shared with as many people as possible. Their hard work with the Noongar Shakespeare Project is important, and their performance of Hecate was beautiful. Catch it while you can! If you miss it, keep Yirra Yaakin on your radar, and check out what else the Perth Festival has to offer in the meantime.
Aurora Goga has worked as a crewmember in theatre, film, and TV for six years. She studied theatre and art history in Norway and is currently studying English literature at the University of Western Australia.