“Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble…”
“Out damned spot! Out, I say!”
“Is this a dagger which I see before me…?”
They’re lines etched into our memories from school days. Penned in 1606, today in the right hands – or voices – they bring the bloody story of Macbeth to life on stage in a way the written word cannot.
I’ve only seen Macbeth performed twice. The first – in the 1970s when I was a schoolgirl – was a rather bizarre interpretation in which the setting was not Scotland but medieval Japan, and the warriors were samurai. After a bit of research I assume that this stage production was based on the 1959 film adaptation Throne of Blood, by the Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. It certainly left an indelible impression on me and my schoolmates.
So it was with some trepidation that I set out this week to see Macbeth again. But my hopes were high, for this time I was heading for a Queensland Theatre Company production, in conjunction with The Grin & Tonic Theatre Troupe, from acclaimed international guest director Michael Attenborough. And I was not disappointed.
It might not appeal to all, but I loved the stark grey, gloomy setting of Birnam Wood, devoid of feeling, light or life. The costumes all grey too – with the exception of a blood-red gown worn by Lady Macbeth in a couple of scenes. That the men wore cargo pants with their leather breastplates – not a kilt in sight – did not detract at all from it. It gave the performance a timelessness, despite the language.
Shakespeare can be daunting – and there were some in our row who did not return for Act II – but the language becomes easy to follow if the actors’ rhythms and cadences are right. So it was on opening night. With Jason Klarwein in the title role, and Veronica Neave as an edgy, sexy Lady Macbeth, the cast of 16 took on – in some cases – multiple roles.
But the witches…oh, the witches! With sinuous dancers’ moves, a zombie-style look, and occasionally sibilant delivery, they stole the show (for me at least). Top marks to Ellen Bailey, Lauren Jackson and Courtney Stewart.
We know the story of treachery, greed and murder so I don’t need to tell you here. Suffice to say the effect is one of mud and blood and bad blood as the plot plays out.
This production might not be for everyone. Traditionalists may falter; the timid or squeamish might baulk at the theatre door where a sign warns of blood and gore and darkness. And yes, there is blood (which rather oddly and unsettlingly provoked a burst of laughter from the Brisbane audience).
But whatever you do – if you go along – don’t leave at interval, because you’ll miss a beautifully executed sword-fight between Macbeth and Macduff (Andrew Buchanan), directed by Nigel Poulton.
All images by Rob Maccoll (courtesy QTC)