travel and life with lee mylne

Macbeth: treachery, murder, mud and blood

“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.

Jason Klarwein as Macbeth and Veronica Neave as Lady Macbeth in the QTC production under Michael Attenborough, photo Rob Maccoll 2

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.

Macbeth WITCHES, image Rob Maccoll_n

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.

Jason Klarwein as Macbeth and Tama Matheson as Banquo in QTC's production under Michael Attenborough, photo Rob Maccoll


All images by Rob Maccoll (courtesy QTC)



12 Responses to “Macbeth: treachery, murder, mud and blood”

  1. candidkay

    It looks beautifully staged! Always gives me hope when people go to the theater–a sign our basic humanity is still functioning:).

    • A Glass Half Full

      I love the theatre! I don’t always post about it, but sometimes I strike something that I think will have fairly universal interest – and I think most people have had a passing acquaintance with Shakespeare, even if only in their school days. Oh yes, the set was magnificent. I was very sorry that I had to pass on a backstage tour because I had other commitments. Would have loved to have walked through this Birnam Wood!

  2. Velvet

    Lovely review. I would love you opinion on something as I am writing a piece about Macbeth. In relation to the set design what do you think it symbolised or did it in some way reflect what was happening throughout?

    • A Glass Half Full

      The setting – Birnam Wood – was quite eerie and spooky. In her notes in the program, designer Simone Romaniuk wrote: “Architecture has no place here.” And I think it was a brilliant move. The shadowy world in which the actors move is really reflective of the plotting and planning and sneaking around that’s going on…and the stark monochrome colours add to that. It also had a timeless feel, which introducing a castle or other buildings would have not had (and this worked well with the slightly modern feel to the costumes).

      • Anonymous

        Thank you that has helped a lot. I would love your idea on one other thing … How do you think the witches represented other worldly creatures ? Also what other theatre have you seen lately.

  3. Velvet

    Hi thank you that really helped. I have one other question … How did the witches represent other wordly creatures ? Also what other theatre have you seen lately?

    • A Glass Half Full

      Well, I’m not sure that they did…they moved liked dancers (the footwork was wonderful to watch), and sometimes on all fours like cats! The nod to the modern fad for zombie movies seemed mostly in the costume and make-up (although I am not an expert, never having seen those kind of movies).
      You can find other reviews of theatre I’ve seen since starting this blog (mostly QTC plays but a few others) by searching “theatre” or looking in the Events category.


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