Weaving Magic: Review of STC’s Macbeth

by theatrebloggers

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Shakespeare’s Macbeth has held a long fascination since it was first written in the early 17th century. Witches, murder, madness, manipulation, and at its heart a deeply political message, which, much like Julius Caesar, will never lose its relevance. With all Shakespeare’s work, though, there are profound ruminations going on beneath the story: is Macbeth the victim of fate or the architect of his own downfall? Questions of freewill and determinism are raised, and like any artists worth his salt Shakespeare provides no answers.

But what of this production? Well, we’ve long been calling for the STC to take greater risks with their staging, and it seems that in director Kip Williams they’ve finally found the man for the job. Anyone who saw his rendition of Romeo and Juliet last year will remember the breathtaking spectacle that he was able to achieve; but whereas Romeo and Juliet was done on the epic scale, Macbeth is on the intimate. But therein lays the genius of this production. Because it is on the intimate level: the usual 900 seat capacity of the Sydney Theatre is here only a third of its usual size and the main stage has been reduced down to a narrow platform, putting the audience right up near the action. But behind it rises a vast and empty auditorium, creating a cavernous space as a backdrop. Just like the ‘poor player who struts and frets his hour upon the stage’ we are reminded that each of our lives are played out in a confined sphere, while behind us looms a much larger world and society that encompasses us; and when someone is in the public eye, like a politician or a king, it passes judgment as well. Williams’ inverted stage invokes these feelings.

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But this is not the only treat Williams has in store. Although the play has a slow start, with the actors largely confined around a table on their narrow stage, it is midway through Act Two that the production kicks into gear. It begins with tormented knocking, as the cast starts thumping on the table, gradually raising the tone until it’s a thunderous noise that catches you in the chest. This is followed by an eerie, all-consuming fog that creeps up and completely shrouds both the stage and audience. Shafts of light cut through it, until it eventually comes to evoke a foggy Scottish moor. Williams’ ability to create powerful imagery is impressive: whether it’s something simple like the lone Macbeth standing on the stage’s edge, looking up at the empty auditorium, the staging of the witches’ second encounter, or a rain of sparkling plastic that falls from the rafters; it’s one visual treat after another. The only scene that doesn’t land is the final battle that is played out under a strobe light. Whether it’s because the sequence runs too long, or the frequency of the strobe is mistimed, the scene fails to affect in the same way that the rest of the play does. This is only a minor detraction from what is otherwise a brilliantly designed and innovative piece of theatre.

Hugo Weaving plays the title role. Weaving’s Macbeth is simply brilliant – he is human, volatile, and vulnerable. Weaving produces beautiful moments of tragedy; as he settles on Banquo’s ghost for the first time a collective shiver runs down the audience’s spine. When he hears of the Queen’s untimely demise, Weaving does nothing, and in doing so, we see everything.  It is a pleasure to watch an actor of such calibre flawlessly execute one of the meatier roles in Shakespeare.

Unfortunately, Melita Jurisic misinterprets Lady Macbeth. Jurisic denies any sexuality embedded in the role; there is no chemistry to speak of. This wild-haired Lady Macbeth swaps out strength and resolve for undifferentiated frenzy and lamentation. Jurisic sometimes makes sense of the language, though she is inconsistent, and the final ‘madness’ is largely incomprehensible and appears to be unsupported by the character’s journey (or lack thereof).

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Both leads are supported by a solid ensemble. Made up of Kate Box, Ivan Donato, Paula Arundell, Eden Falk, John Gaden and Robert Menzies, the cast weave their magic and prop up the many characters found within the Scottish play. However, there needed to be greater lyricism and clarity in their Shakespeare. The exception to this is Gaden, a veteran, who speaks this text with natural cadence. Menzies and Arundell also produced clearer speech, though, most of the cast fell back to speed, cantering through the language. Shakespeare should never be rattled off. Its greatest communication comes from an actor’s understanding. Weaving’s scene with the would-be Banquo assassin, is a fine example of crystalised meaning.

It is a credit to Kip Williams that his gender-blind casting is well thought out whilst never played up. Why shouldn’t a woman play Banquo? Or a man one of the Wicked Sisters? It works well without imposing upon the world created.

This is that very rare thing: an exciting and well thought out and executed piece of theatre. For those of you with tickets that are yet to see it you should not be disappointed.

Macbeth has currently sold out, but for more information see:
https://www.sydneytheatre.com.au/whats-on/productions/2014/macbeth

 

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