The Buzz From Sydney
July 22, 2014
Before going along to the first preview of Macbeth, I was struck as I rushed from the restaurant to the theatre of how the dining habits of theatre-goers have evolved over time. I am currently reading Bill Bryson’s At Home, A short History of Private Life, and he muses on (among other things) the origins of society’s dining times through the ages, and points out that a factor that influenced dining times in the past was theatre hours. Apparently in Shakespeare’s day performances started at about two o’clock, which was outside of mealtimes, but that was because open-air theatres like the Globe in London relied on daylight. Once the plays moved indoors, starting times for the theatre got later and later and theatre-goers had to adjust their dinner times around performances, sometimes reluctantly. Eventually the fashionable set who were unwilling to arrange their dining schedules took to sending a servant to secure their seats and would arrive in time for the second act, often noisy and more than a little inebriated. So for about twenty years or so the actors had to perform the first half of a play to sleepy, disinterested servants, and the last half to an audience of disorderly drunks.
We have come full circle, and now rush to eat before we enter the theatre, especially for a much-anticipated show like Macbeth, and especially when there is a lock-out if you are not seated in time for the start. And we are for the most part sober.
Much has been made in the lead up to Macbeth of Kip Williams’ staging: the audience is seated in banks of bleacher-like seats on the edge of the stage while the permanent seating acts as an extended stage, where some of the play’s action takes place. This arrangement came out of a conversation between Williams and Andrew Upton about what it would be like to stage a play where the audience sat on the stage and the performance played out before an empty theatre. While this role reversal was used to good effect a handful of times, I wasn’t completely sold on it as a device. The Scottish Play features one of theatre’s most enigmatic characters and Hugo Weaving and the cast are exceptional actors, the additional subversion of the space seemed unnecessary to me. Also I didn’t find the seats set up for this performance terribly comfortable. The empty (and I imagined bigger and more comfortable seats) across the stage mocked me as I gazed at them wistfully.
Fortunately flawless performances from the cast mostly made up for any discomfort, and made for great theatre. Weaving brings a virtuoso physicality to his role that kept the audience enthralled. Melita Jurisic played multiple roles, including Lady Macbeth and she was equally compelling. The Sydney Theatre Company welcomed back John Gaden (Duncan, Old Man, Young Macduff, Apparition) and Robert Menzies (Witch, Rosse, Porter ), who are both a pleasure to watch in their respective roles. The entire cast beguiled us with intense and convincing performances which will no doubt keep the house packed for the duration. Lighting and effects were also excellent, the strobe lighting greatly enhanced Macbeth’s troubled descent.
On a housekeeping note: cloaking is available and conveniently located on the right as you file in to the theatre. I would highly recommend using this, for a two hour show (with no intermission) holding your coat (plus bag, program etc) on your lap is a nuisance. I am not normally a cranky theatre-goer, but as I made it in time for the beginning of the play and didn’t send a lackey to secure my seat, I expect a modicum of comfort when I get there.
Featuring: Paula Arundell, Kate Box, Ivan Donato, Eden Falk, John Gaden, Melita Jurisic, Robert Menzies and Hugo Weaving.
Creative Team: Kip Williams (director), Alice Babidge (designer), Nick Schlieper (lighting designer) and Maz Lyandvert (composer and sound designer).
Macbeth is on until the 27 September, but has limited tickets left, check www.sydneytheatre.com.au for what is available.