The Au Review
August 1, 2014
The fire is burning and the cauldron is bubbling on the stage of the Sydney Theatre Company as it presents Macbeth, starring Hugo Weaving in the titular role.
This adaptation would be special simply by having such a veteran powerhouse gracing the stage, but there is much more to this production than an impressive name attached to it. The play, as well as the role of audience members and players are subverted by having the former seated on the stage with the actors. Before a single character arrives you are left to gaze into the sheer majesty of the auditorium. The usually filled seats lie empty, eerily staring back at you. If nothing else, it more than establishes the ambience of the performance.
Once the play begins, it becomes immediately obvious that it’s going to be quintessentially minimalistic. Characters are clothed in modern clothing that borders on dull and the few props that surround them are used multi-purposely. Anyone who isn’t yet active in the current scene is left frozen, patiently awaiting their queues. Furthermore, everyone but Hugo Weaving himself played multiple, often gender-bent roles. John Gaden, who also played King Duncan, was particularly incredible in his role as one of Macduff’s children later in the play. Initially, all of these creative choices makes it seem like you’re witnessing the first read-through or perhaps an early rehearsal, as opposed to the finished product… and yet, it works.
Being stripped of context and costumes enables the audience to become truly immersed in the story itself, because there is literally nothing else to focus on besides Shakespeare’s words and the performances of the actors. There is nothing that they can hide behind, which only highlighted how truly talented the ensemble truly was. I have no qualms with admitting that it was the best performances of anything that I’ve ever seen. Weaving was an inspiration as the doomed Macbeth. Any words that I use to describe his command of the stage would be doing him a disservice. However, I will say that watching him fall into insanity was a disturbing pleasure. The cast that supported him were also incredible, and I often found myself being mesmerised by Lady Macbeth (Melita Jurisic) and Banquo (Paula Arundell).
Despite the minimalism in the overall production, there was some incredibly innovative utilization of the old and faithful fog machine that sent a collective chill down the spine of the audience. It was also interesting how this adaptation treated the famous “Is this a dagger which I see before me?” scene, depicting Lady Macbeth holding the weapon behind her husband. With so much academic debate surrounding the couple, particularly in regards to who most contributed to Macbeth’s downfall, it was a fascinating choice.
I urge anyone who gets the chance to see Macbeth, to do so. It has truly reinvigorated a classic that will knock the breath out of Shakespeare fans and newcomers alike. We don’t normally do scores for theatre reviews on the AU, but if we did, this would be a FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE) performance.