August 30, 2017

Daggers of the mind laid bare

by William Shakespeare
State Theatre Company
Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre
August 29. Tickets: $33- $61. Bookings 131 246 or online.
Duration 2 hours. No interval.
Until September 16.

“It will have blood, they say : blood will have blood.” Macbeth’s words aptly describe the grim carnage that is not just his tragedy, but a kingdom ravaged by civil war. And it is this theme which drives State Theatre Company director Geordie Brookman’s terrific new production of the ill-fated Scottish Play.

It is said of Macbeth that it lacks the equivocation and ambiguity of other Shakespearean tragedies. The protagonist knows the difference between right and wrong – and he chooses wrong. How does this happen ? And what role does his co-conspirator, Lady Macbeth, play in this hell-ride that brings down a royal regime like – a House of Cards.

Victoria Lamb’s excellent design locates the action in a cavernous grey shell of a building, like a blitzed factory or abattoir. The murky walls are streaked with lye and whitewash, it suggests the End Times, or a scene from Bosnia or Mosul. It is a very un-regal court. Duncan wears a grey suit, maroon scarf and thin gold band for a crown. Others, Ross and Macduff, are dressed in militia fatigues, laced boots, hoodies, beanies, and armed with knives.

Geoff Cobham’s lighting is startling – harsh down spots and side spots on the beleaguered characters, sprays of livid greenish yellow on the increasingly depraved Macbeth, and, very occasionally, a honeyed glow over Duncan. The soundscapes from DJ Tr!p and Andrew Howard are consistently evocative and portentous – chiming, tolling, pulsing and prefiguring the inevitable.

The ensemble performances are memorably strong. Peter Carroll is commanding as Duncan and when he morphs from dead king to the porter, it is a theatrical highlight. Dale March is vivid as Banquo and especially visceral as his ghost, Christopher Pitman is staunch as Macduff and his grief at the death of his family brings humanity to the closing scenes. Miranda Daughtry’s Ross, Rashidi Edward’s Malcolm and Rachel Burke as the ubiquitous witch, all contribute well.

Under Brookman’s direction Anna Steen’s Lady Macbeth is less demonic, nor is she coquettish and excessively manipulative. Her resolve is still terrifying and her demise a kind of redemption, but the focus shifts to Macbeth as the agent of his own downfall.

Nathan O’Keefe is outstanding as Macbeth. Often understated, he brings a plausibility to the protagonist’s sense of manifest destiny, strongly assisted by the device of having the witch onstage throughout. O’Keefe powerfully charts the cruelty, the guilt and the daggers of the mind.

And he is not the only one in blood far stepped. As the murders and retributions escalate so does the on-stage blood, delivered in ritual serves by Burke’s raggedy puckish witch. It is a bold device but it works. This is a Macbeth that reminds us of the human cost of vaulting ambition.

“Daggers of the mind laid bare” The Australian, August 31, p.14.

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