Presented by The State Theatre Company of South Australia
Reviewed 29th August 2017
Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s most recognised tragedies, following arguably one of theatre’s most complex couples on their increasingly merciless path towards the crown. But, are the Macbeth’s monsters of ambition and savagery, or are they the fractured result of trauma?
Geordie Brookman’s adaptation of this classic seeks to explore just this. His ‘doorway’ into the play was something only mentioned in passing by Shakespeare; the death of the Macbeths’ child soon after birth. Brookman focuses on this psychologically damaging event as the instigator of Macbeth’s violent rampage, demonstrating that his savage rise and brutal fall is a path that anyone could follow, when the sacredness of life is ripped away from them.
This is a brilliant production.
The leading couple, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, played by Nathan O’Keefe and Anna Steen respectively, are outstanding. Whilst he starts the play as a loyal and valiant soldier, Macbeth’s desire for the throne is awakened when three witches predict that he will be King. To fulfil his increasing hunger for the crown, Macbeth is soon tempted into committing murder, and thus, his descent into madness begins. As his victims pile up, O’Keefe expertly embodies a man who is unable to bear the psychological consequences of his actions, and is constantly tormented with guilt. O’Keefe’s performance was especially moving in the scene where he sees Banquo’s ghost at the dining table, shortly after murdering him.
Anna Steen is equally riveting as Lady Macbeth, a deeply ambitious pragmatist who, like Macbeth, yearns for the crown. Whilst she is the driving force behind the plot to slay King Duncan and appears to be stronger and more ruthless than her husband, she falls victim to remorse even sooner than Macbeth, and eventually commits suicide. Steen’s balance between her portrayal of a manipulative woman with a hunger for power, and a devastated and damaged mother, is accomplished.
Traditionally, there are three witches in Macbeth; mythological Fates who impersonally control human destiny, and seem to take a perverse delight in using their knowledge of the future to destroy human beings. In this adaptation, Rachel Burke gives a stirring performance as the single faceless witch. On stage for the entirety of the performance, Burke would watch on, climbing silently over the set’s minimal props, unseen to most characters. Burke’s jarring costume blinded her, yet above all other characters, she could see all. Burke showed her versatility by representing various children throughout the play, including Macduff Jr, and Fleance.
The cast rounded out well, with Elena Carapetis as Lady Macduff, Miranda Daughtry as Ross, Rashidi Edward as Malcolm, Dale Match as Banquo, and Christopher Pittman as Macduff. Mention must be made to Peter Caroll, who gave a fine performance as Porter, the drunken doorman of Macbeth’s castle. In a bold statement by Brookman, Carrol also gave a fine performance as the virtuous and benevolent King Duncan.
One of the most thrilling aspects of this production was the abstracted death scenes. Each death was unique, with Brookman utilising stage blood in more ways than this reviewer ever thought possible! In one particularly gruesome scene, Burke opened her mouth and drooled blood all over the victim’s face. This bold directing choice emphasised the Witch as the reason for Macbeth’s descent into madness, conveying the notion that his violence was as a direct result of her prophecies. After their deaths, the characters remained on stage on seats that encircled the stage, giving a physical representation of the Macbeths’ guilt as the bodies piled up.
Victoria Lamb’s contemporary, urban set design provided a psychological nightmare with no escape routes. The biblical-esque scene around the large, industrial dining table was particularly clever. Geoff Cobham’s evocative lighting design, and DJ Trip’s cinematic soundscape complimented the atmosphere perfectly.
The State Theatre Company of South Australia promised that this play would be ‘breathless’, ‘bold’ and ‘bloody’. This production was these things and more. Geordie Brookman has provided Adelaide audiences with a stunning interpretation of this Shakespeare classic.
Reviewed by Ben Francis
Venue: The Dunstan Playhouse
Season: 29th August – 16th September
Duration: 100 minutes (no interval)