Even for those well-versed in Shakespeare, the name Hecate is likely to draw a blank. The goddess of witchcraft, her fleeting appearance in Macbeth – she has a single soliloquy, in which she reprimands the three weird sisters – is traditionally omitted in performance. But it was precisely the character’s scant, mysterious presence in the text that proved intriguing for actor, writer and director Kylie Bracknell, who has written and will direct an adaptation of Macbeth with Hecate at its centre. Performed entirely in Noongar language, Hecate is a joint presentation between Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company and Bell Shakespeare and receives its premiere at the Perth Festival in February.
Kylie Bracknell and the cast of Hecate. Photo © Dana Weeks
The idea for a Noongar production of Macbeth was first put forward by Kyle J Morrison, former Artistic Director of Yirra Yaakin. It was in workshopping the idea with Morrison, Bell Shakespeare AD Peter Evans and playwright and actor Kate Mulvany (who has served as dramaturg for Hecate) that Bracknell stumbled across the queen of the witches.
“We were sitting around a table and speaking about the play and characters,” she explains. “We got to Hecate and I felt like I needed to stand up for her a bit because she seemed to be cut from every production. The people want to know who she is and I wondered why she was so easy to cut and Peter explained ‘well, she’s in one scene and it’s hard to double up sometimes’ so I thought why not dedicate a whole show to her then?”
One of the central ideas that Bracknell explores in her adaptation is the power of country and its overriding of temporal concerns.
“It’s one of the driving forces behind this adaptation because it’s what Hecate represents. In Shakespeare’s work she’s queen of the witches and he was writing at a time when people were burned at the stake if they were practising any of that nonsense. Jump forward to our times, people pay quite a lot of money to have their fortune told and their palms read and it’s really interesting how that perspective on witchcraft has really shifted.”
Hecate. Photo © Eva Fernandez
“With Hecate, I really wanted to address what power truly is when it’s in the female form, and how connected to life women are. We birth life and care for life and I felt there was something elusive about her abilities that I feel in my gut Shakespeare didn’t have time to expand on, so I really wanted to do that in this version. So the play is definitely embedded in country and what that’s about because, without sounding too cliched, this is our mother earth and she provides life. To be queen of anything you have to have leadership qualities and the knowledge of how to care for something. She’s connected to what’s happening in the world, parts of it we don’t see and parts that we forget about. I really found that quite interesting to draw on.”
Bracknell hesitates to reveal too much about her adaptation, urging audiences to discover it for themselves. “I think if you have to talk something up yourself, you’re automatically stripping it of some kind of quality because people are reading about it through your lens. Whereas with this show I want people to come and look at it through their own eyes and experience something first hand,” she explains.
However, she does own that she’s “hacked away at the original text quite a bit”, referring to advice given to her by Mulvany to be “bold and brave.”
One of Bracknell’s great hopes for Hecate is that it will help encourage a resurgence of language.
“Noongar is endangered, and my fear is that it will die soon. It’s been documented in various places – universities, plaques, local councils and things like that – but if a language is only written and not spoken by its people, it dies. So for me this was about having a group of Noongar performers and I always wanted it to be a purely Noongar cast and rightfully so, they should be the ones amplifying these sounds and sharing and performing them whether through spoken word or song or a gesture. To be able to have a group to do that with and to do that for our community, I’m really excited to see what the younger audiences think of this, young Noongar kids who are going to come through and go ‘wow, we have a language. Wow, I just saw an entire theatre piece all in language. I can’t wait to start learning it.’ For me I feel like I’m fulfilling one of my life missions.”
Hecate plays as part of Perth Festival, February 6 – 16