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MACBETH Nicholas Eadie
LADY MACBETH Margot Fenley
YOUNG SIWARD Jonathan Ford
DUNCAN / OLD MAN / SIWARD John Gregg
ROSS Doug Hansell
BANQUO / MENTEITH / MESSENGER Peter Hayes
DONALBAIN/SEYTON Matt Hyde
LADY MACDUFF / PORTER / GENTLEWOMAN Danielle King
MACDUFF Ashley Lyons
MALCOLM Paul-William Mawhinney
ANGUS/MURDERER Adam McGurk
SERGEANT Woody Naismith
LENNOX/DOCTOR John Turnbull
YOUNG MACDUFF Andrew Brophy or Lawson Tanner
FLEANCE Mitchell Burge or James Fraser
DIRECTOR Christopher Hurrell
MOVEMENT DIRECTOR Mackenzie Scott
ASSISTANT DIRECTOR Lincoln Hall
SET DESIGNER Justin Nardella
COSTUME DESIGNERS Michael Hankin & Lucilla Smith
LIGHTING DESIGNER Stephen Hawker
SOUND DESIGNER Steve Toulmin
PRODUCER Anna Sampson
PRODUCTION MANAGER Phil Berry
LIGHTING AND SOUND OPERATOR Victor Areces
STAGE MANAGER Eilza Ocana
REHEARSAL ROOM STAGE MANAGER Katharine Rogers
SET CONSTRUCTION Go-Mez Constructions
PRODUCTION CREW Karina McKenzie & Danielle Bertozzo
Photography by Tom Evangelidis
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I assume that the play, with its witches and demons, spells and visions, was originally designed by Shakespeare to terrify a superstitious audience. That’s something which is lost from the play’s story-telling now and I began by wondering if it’s still possible for the play to be terrifying on stage. We are more likely to find stage-witches funny than frightening. However, what remains terrifying about the witches, is that their presence in the play suggests the possibility that we can’t control our own destiny. What’s terrifying about Macbeth is that we relate to him so keenly, even as he descends into violent horror.
I concluded that I wanted to do the play without magic and spells and potions and cauldrons, but NOT without the presence of the witches. I noticed that the things they say were much more appalling and horrifying when I was able to merely listen to the images conjured in the text – without reducing those images by literal representation. Also I realized that one of the things I love about the witches on the page, is that their presence has mystery and ambiguity. A very common question when studying the play at school is “how real are the witches?” Productions of the play seldom find a way for this doubt to live, despite the fact that both Banquo and Macbeth express doubts in the evidence of their own senses. So I decided to ‘disappear’ the witches into the ensemble by sharing their roles amongst most of the members of the company.
I wanted to offer some provocations to unsettle the over-simplified way in which we are introduced to this play as teenagers at school:
- That rather than combining the heroic and villainous character types into one man –Shakespeare has disbursed them in varying measure amongst all the inhabitants of the world of the play.
- That the play is actually very little to do with ambition. It’s NOT merely a more sophisticated version of Richard III. A recent quote from Declan Donellan put this into sharp relief for me, when he said “I always thought the play was about a husband and a wife deciding to kill a king. But actually it’s a play about a husband and wife REALISING that they HAVE killed a king.” I think the temptation that draws them is far richer and darker than simple ambition for power. The seed is planted by a force, represented by the witches, that is far more primal and visceral than that. Macbeth is seduced more by his uncontrollable and dark imagination than by practical ambition.
- That the source of Macbeth’s capacity for monstrous action is locked inside the brokenness of his own soul. In the pre-psychoanalysis world of the play this is explored through recourse to the spirit world, via the witches and via Lady Macbeth’s searching and Macbeth’s imagining. I want to break open that representation. A world ‘ beyond’ human flesh, is also a world ‘within’ it.
I want to create a theatrical world for the production that ‘exposes’ character – where psyche and soul are unprotected. To me, the world most richly illustrated in the poetry is not pre-modern Scotland, or a martial society, or even a land where ‘dark arts’ run rampant, its the world of the Macbeths’ imaginations, dreams and nightmares. Those imaginings, dreams and nightmares are largely created by the Macbeths but they do not solely belong to the Macbeths. The most memorable text for all of the major characters and many of the cameos, is when they engage their imaginations in horror. In this sense the whole play and most of the characters are haunted I think.
What’s important about the physical world of the play is that because of era, terrain, weather and warfare, it’s a world where the physical body is highly vulnerable and under extreme duress. So for example we used no weapons in the production, freeing the body from safety concerns to be able to engage creatively with the physical expression of what happens to frail human flesh when it comes violently into contact with mediaeval armoury.
We worked extensively with a movement director, to create an ensemble performance of physical rawness and extremity. It was a production where the whole ensemble worked on stage for most of the show. This shared physical work expressed the essence of mood, time and location, with the barest minimum of carefully deployed suggestion in costume, scenic and props. I wanted the audience’s imagination to be as active as Macbeth’s is.
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Review: Macbeth – Darlinghurst Theatre Company
As director Christopher Hurrell points out in his notes, we are all taught in high school that Macbeth is about ambition, hubris, power and pride. Hurrell though seeks to do something different with his version, and he certainly has.
We are presented from the beginning with a Macbeth who is probably already mad, or at least has some underlying mental health issues that remain unnamed and undiagnosed in medieval Scotland.
Nicholas Eadie’s Macbeth is initially a reticent, edgy, reluctant figure who is more disconcerted by the witches’ prophesying than he is filled with ambition. The lines that stand out, those Eadie and Hurrel have made weightier in the rhythm of the dialogue, are those that betray the doubt at the heart of Macbeth’s ambition.
As he progresses, we come to see him not as someone who lusts hopelessly after power, but as someone upon whom unseen forces have wreaked havoc. Of course he will be king – the witches foretold it. His madness here is not a result of his actions, but a part of them, and he becomes a man trying to escape from himself.
The nightmarish mood is set by a kind of moving “chorus” consisting of most of the cast transform the fluid space from scene to scene. The set is imposing and claustrophobic, heavy, rusted “metal” panels cover two sides floor-to-ceiling. A kind of “stage-coal” border runs around the space, and everyone wears whatever they picked up after the goth/viking apocalypse. The theatre was frigidly cold, and while it meant I had to keep my jacket on for the first three acts, I couldn’t help but feel it suited the mood. I heard representations being made to the front of house at interval by some patrons clearly less committed than myself, but I have to say I rather enjoyed it.
Steve Toumlin’s sound design instills paranoia, discomfort and doubt, with its occasional rumbling bass, hissy white-noise-ish effect, and high tones that are barely there, yet still make you clench your teeth.
On those moments (mainly before the interval) when this production really nails it, the effect is terrifying. It’s not disconcerting, or “confronting,” it doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable – it makes you feel sheer terror. The ensemble, with their expressionistic movement, occasionally reach out beyond what’s happening in the play to something gestural and powerful. As an audience member you feel as though they’ve somehow gotten into the darker bits of your soul and started tinkering around.
That fact that this effect is momentary and fleeting is, in some ways, a mercy. It would have been a draining few hours if the players had remained at those heights of evocation. As it is, Macbeth’s madness is so affecting (and so close to us, pushed in our direction by the giant, unforgiving rusted metal walls) that the audience weren’t able to bring themselves to applause at interval. Instead the small group sat in silence, and eventually stood and left, made phone calls and ordered drinks, slightlytraumatised. Just because we weren’t able to thank the actors didn’t mean they’d done a bad job. In fact, they’d done a great job, but it was on us and we’d not yet recovered.
This isn’t to say the show didn’t have its weaker points. The fact that Macbeth’s madness and the terror and paranoia of his ascent is such an insular and expressionistic process means that Lady Macbeth is left somewhat stranded, oscillating between a traditional role as an ambitious woman driving her husband, and an odd kind of partnership in his insanity. There were places where planned “high points” fell somewhat flat, but the fact that so many of them landed with such a small audience is a credit to the ensemble. The stage-combat and choreographed killing scenes are particularly effective, and are an innovative and evocative use of a small space and a large cast.
In Hurrell’s production, we’re exposed to something in touch with the madness that control us, whether they’re of persecution, ambition, grief or terror. Though this Macbeth does have its flaws, Hurrell has made firm, unusual and interesting decisions as a director, and committed himself and his cast to them absolutely.
And when it works, my god it’s good.
Arts/Theatre Correspondent Lachlan Williams is a Sydney-based writer, comedian and musician and has worked with Australian independent live theatre.
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