Macbeth (Queensland Theatre Company)
QPAC, The Playhouse
March 24 – April 13
Queensland Theatre Company’s flagship 2014 show is an ambitious production. Directed by lauded UK director Michael Attenborough (son of Richard Attenborough), “Macbeth” is presented in association with veteran Brisbane theatre troupe Grin & Tonic and features one of QTC biggest casts of recent years, with 16 actors taking to the stage. The result is an epic production that honours Shakespeare’s work with an impressive design aesthetic that, like “The Mountaintop” and “Mother Courage” explores the depths and possibilities of The Playhouse stage.
It is a thrilling beginning, when from amidst the misty, primitive darkness of the gnarled forest of a civil war ravaged wasteland, three witches appear to seduce Macbeth into acceptance of their prophecy that he will be king. It is a dark and dangerous place for as Macbeth himself notes, “let not light see my black and deep desires”. Foul in sisterly weirdness, these secret, hostile, midnight hags (Ellen Bailey, Lauren Jackson and Courtney Stewart) lithely limber over each other with an air of ethereality, like feral Tempest Ariels. Their writhed dance (choreography by Nerida Matthaei) is complemented by their breathy proclamations as they spit out the prophecies that inspire Macbeth’s vaulting ambition.
Other members of the all Queensland cast project similar dynamism in their darkness. Jason Klarwein is commanding in the titular role of the famed General Macbeth, a man of ambition, but also insecurity. Indeed, it is as the newly-crowned, but increasingly paranoid Scottish king that he truly shines, as his tragic hero seeks to ensure his kingship is safely thus through ordering Banquo’s murder. Klarwein’s imposing presence on stage is complemented by Veronica Neave, who delivers a determined, interpretation of the role of Lady Macbeth. Though they are both at home with Shakespeare’s challenging text, however, their Act One soliloquies sometimes appear to be fourth-wall break speeches to the audience, rather than vehicles for their characters to reflect, which is enhanced though the lack of gesture in seminal soliloquies such as Lady’s Macbeth’s plea for the spirits to fill her top-full of direst cruelty.
The ensemble is strong, and features some effective doubling. Eugene Gilfedder is perfect as the meek and gentle Duncan, before being reincarnated the Doctor, observing Lady Macbeth’s incriminating recollection that she never knew the old man to have so much blood in him. And Lauren Jackson also shows versatile prowess playing a witch and Lady Macduff. Lucas Stibbard, enlivens his scenes as the Porter, bringing out the only humour in the production when playing the crude, jester-like character and Thomas Larkin (for what would the Bard in Brisbane be without him) gives an impressive performance as a proud Prince Malcolm.
This is a testosterone-driven play of grimy, muscled men, bloodied from their war wounds. And it features impressive stage combat, including a final blow in the Macduff and Macbeth battle scene that brings a collective gasp from the audience. Everything about the design of this “Macbeth” is notable. David Walter’s lighting design achieves a stunning presence whether warming the banquet scene, shadowing the violence or illuminating Birnam Wood’s approach arising from within the stage itself. Phil Slade’s composition and sound design is similarly impressive in its ability to capture the grand heraldry of this epic work. Costuming too is effective, with the wash of cold charcoals and greys enhancing the ruling metaphor of darkness down to the smallest of details, like the mud-stained hems of the servant garb.
QTC have created a passionate production of Shakespeare’s psychological horror. If you like the Scottish play, you will like this production. And if you aren’t a fan, this won’t necessarily make you fall in love with it, but it will give you plenty of moments to appreciate, especially in the wild darkness Simone Romaniuk’s imaginative design element in which fair is foul and foul is fair.