July 28, 2014
HUGO Weaving’s Macbeth is passionate and given to intense outbursts of emotion, but above all he is fearful. He is worried by his own conflicting impulses after he first meets the witches, then appalled by what he has done after the murder of Duncan.
From the moment, after the murder of Banquo, when Banquo’s ghost returns to haunt him at his coronation banquet he seems to be driven not by ambition but by a kind of exultant terror. It is a great and illuminating performance.
None of the other characters matters so much — this is Macbeth’s journey. Each terrified reaction goads him on, as he abandons the responsibilities of public life and begins to embrace his personal fate. The effect is frightening and tragic.
Melita Jurisic’s magnificently feverish Lady Macbeth is strongly ambitious at first but, also, scarcely able to contain her feelings. The “I have given suck …” speech here marks the beginning of her decline into an abjection that is utterly complete by the time she comes on in her mad scene at the end.
Kate Box and Paula Arundell play Macduff and Banquo with a gentleness that is not a physical match for Weaving’s rugged masculinity but with a moral authority that reflects the proper order of the social and political world that Macbeth is rapidly losing touch with. Robert Menzies, John Gaden, Eden Falk and Ivan Dona complete a fine cast.
The social and political world is also reflected in the unusual staging. Director Kip Williams and designer Alice Babidge cram a reduced audience on to the stage of the Sydney Theatre, with a large playing space on the floor of the stalls and the vast auditorium looming behind.
The emptiness of all those serried rows of seats, in the context of this story, is chilling. They become the setting for several scenes of exile. Banquo is murdered among them and, high up in the dress circle, Macduff, having fled to England, learns of the slaughter of his family and household. Box’s simply played agony is powerfully moving.
All these spaces are wonderfully lit by Nick Schlieper, with shifting white light on the main stage and a ghostly blue that rises in the auditorium behind.
There is a terrific sound design by Max Lyandvert. There is an explosion of smoke that fills the theatre after the first murder but it is then swept away by a howling wind. The witches play their second scene of prophecy grubbing scarily around in the ruins of the banquet.
A silvery rain starts to fall as Macbeth faces his final battle, backlit by intense white light in a brilliantly scintillating effect, like stars and meteors in a night sky, that reflects his inner exaltation while at the same time smothering him and finally, when it stops, leaving him isolated and alone.
Williams’s production is full of such great ideas and it works superbly well. It is intelligent, passionate and quite thrilling.
Tickets $50-$119. Bookings (02) 9250 1777. Duration: 120mins, no interval. Until September 27.
Macbeth By William Shakespeare. Sydney Theatre Company, Sydney Theatre. July 25