‘Macbeth’ is one of William Shakespeare’s most violent and blood – thirsty outings. Known for his impressive collection of tragedies, comedies and histories, the author was never one to shy away from socially – challenging commentaries, either.
This particular work explores the destructive physical and psychological effects of constitutional ambition, on those who crave and seek power for the sake of it. Shakespeare’s play also tracks its protagonist’s murderous ambition, nerve – wracking guilt, and outright paranoia, all in descending order. These themes are as topical and relevant now, as they were when the piece premiered more than four hundred years ago.
It is perhaps no coincidence that for the second time this season, the Melbourne Theatre Company has unveiled a production with its finger pressed firmly on today’s political pulse. After last January’s live – wire rendering of ‘Born Yesterday’, their spin on ‘Macbeth’ also shares uncanny parallels with the current free world’s most formidable and notorious leader.
Further, the play has an impressive performance history.
Notable past productions featured the likes of Laurence Olivier (1955), Ian McKellen (1976) and Antony Sher (1999) playing the titular lead. Then in 1971, Roman Polanski, put a blood – soaked orgiastic translation to film, made shortly after the brutal murder of his wife.
In the MTC’s version, the playwright’s thrilling narrative takes viewers on an especially gripping roller coaster. For two non – stop hours, the team presents a post – apocalyptic vision, fully – loaded and action – packed for twenty – first century audiences.
So far, several critics have been rather shaken by the company’s modern, fresh and dynamic staging. Here, Shakespeare’s eloquent text is sliced with copious amounts of violence, blood, and fight sequences (tightly – choreographed by Lyndall Grant). It is heady stuff to see up close and in person, and in keeping with this hyper realism, I was fascinated to learn that the company employed a military consultant, Michael Fitzpatrick, as well.
Given their high – profile lead, the MTC’s shrewd production choices are perhaps no accident.
Last year, the long – established company scored a major win with rising Hollywood player, Jai Courtney, secured to play the man himself. Since graduating from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, to date Courtney has carved out an international name mainly playing action heroes.
The actor’s television credits include Spartacus: Blood and Sand (2010), and for film, Jack Reacher (2012), A Good Day To Die Hard (2013), Divergent (2014), Insurgent (2015), Terminator Genisys (2015), and Suicide Squad (2016). With his matinee idol looks and delicious physical presence, this is indeed inspired casting.
Courtney’s training and guidance showcases his deep understanding of motive and text, particularly during several monologues, where the character becomes separate from the surrounding action. As the star above the title, Macbeth’s success rests almost entirely on his broad shoulders.
He is ably supported by a brilliant cast and creative team, featuring some notable stand – outs.
As Lady Macbeth, Geraldine Hakewill is his intellectually terrifying and unhinged equal. Her stunning beauty also masks a complex women as hungry for fame and fortune as her husband. Lady Macbeth’s journey is a fascinating parallel, with Hakewell taking this notion and running with it for the show’s entirety.
Key to Macbeth’s initial corruption, the witches are played by Jane Montgomery Griffiths, Shareena Clanton and Kamil Ellis, with calm yet sinister relish.
Dan Spielman is Macduff, Macbeth’s betrayed rival and potential successor to the Scottish throne. His character is as perplexed as anyone as to why the kingdom is crumbling. Late in the story, when learning that his immediate family has been murdered, the actor draws gut – wrenching focus from that devastating news.
Robert Menzies earns several moments of comic relief as the porter, as well as playing King Duncan and the doctor.
As a testament to their ensemble skill, it should be noted that some of the actors also do double and triple duty, playing multiple roles.
Shaun Gurton’s elegant set design, in tandem with Nick Sclieper’s mood lighting, are integral to this electrifying telling.
Spare and stark, ornamental props and black dividing walls give this production sophisticated cinematic appeal. Dividing up the five acts, the frequent use of revolves also allows the episodic journey linear focus. The colour red, symbolic of war and death, is showcased via tall candles, bed linen, lighting, and costumes.
Bringing viewers into the action, there are moments when the actors make smart use of the auditorium as well.
Esther Marie Hayes elaborate costumes provide breathtaking moments of regal elegance and militant attention where necessary. Perhaps inspired by Hollywood’s Golden Age, her gowns for Lady Macbeth are particularly noteworthy, and define the separation between royalty and the working classes.
Ian McDonald’s spare composition design keeps the tension mounting, with smooth vocal and text coaching from Leith McPherson.
Precise and often, split second stage management is also crucial to the seamless fluidity of this show. The crew includes Julia Smith (performance season), Jess Burns (rehearsals), Whitney McNamara (deputy stage management), and Jess Keepence (assistant stage management).
Vibrant direction from Simon Phillips (with associate direction from Dean Bryant) provides viewers with a universally accessible and definitive show for the ages.
Catch it at Southbank’s Sumner Theatre while you can.