Printable CopyMACBETH
The State Theatre Company of South Australia
Dunstan Playhouse
Until 16 Sep 2017

Review by Jamie Wright

Director Geordie Brookman has seen a dagger before him, and he has taken it with gusto to the script of Shakespeare’s (very loosely historical) story of the Scottish power couple (using the parlance of our times) who strive to take the Scottish throne after the titular character is visited by a trio of witches who present him with a prophecy that he can’t help but act upon.

Numerous characters and more than a few scenes have been excised to strip the story back to a taut, two-hour (sans interval) running time that focuses on the core elements, and plot-significant (but character-irrelevant lines) are delivered by the actors whose characters have been killed off yet remain on stage, sticky with blood and white with dust.

A lean and shorn Nathan O'Keefe is Macbeth, who goes from distraught (courtesy of a prelude not in the original script, but alluded to later) to conflicted to ambitious to viciously unhinged and bristling with hubris; he's haunting and compelling at almost every point he's on stage.

Anna Steen, as Lady Macbeth, is similarly engaging and dynamic throughout, though courtesy of the script edits we're denied the entirety of her tragic journey the way Shakespeare intended, and her end comes more suddenly then perhaps it should.

Chris Pitman's MacDuff seems haunted by his battlefield experiences even before the conflict with his former friend begins – and his scene where Ross reveals the true extent of Macbeth's depravity (an interesting variation on the original; here it is Macbeth himself rather than a pair of hirelings) is heartbreaking.

Rachel Burke does some excellent work in rapid shifts between characters, and her physicality as the witch is especially creepy – here, deviating from the text, she never leaves the stage but appears and disappears as characters perceive her.

Elena Carapetis is a snarky Lady Macduff and Peter Carroll does great double-duty as King Duncan and the porter (even if that legendary scene is one that's been significantly cut down; in context it's a delight). Miranda Daughtry, Rashidi Edward and Dale March complete the ensemble, and all provide strong moments throughout.

Victoria Lamb's decaying contemporary urban set is spectacular; a grimy, dilapidated laneway dotted with foul-looking mould and broken windows – and the characters are dressed to match. Cunningly-concealed doors allow for very fast scene changes and shockingly sudden appearances/disappearances, and Brookman has used this to great effect.

Heightening everything is Geoff Cobham's exceptional lighting, used to tremendous effect throughout, in every possible way – spacing, mood, impact and the aforementioned entrances and exits. Sound design by Andrew Howard and composition from DJ Tr!p is similarly excellent, pulsing and pounding and grating as the action demands.

While this gritty, blood-soaked production does skip over some fan-favourite lines and aspects of the text that provide a greater depth to the story and weight to the action (the small ensemble cast is too few for several the scenes portrayed), the core elements remain – and with it, Brookman and co. remind us that, while there aren't too many periods in history where parallels couldn’t be drawn from the text, or political figures to be likened to the characters, we are living in a time where there are more similarities to be found when comparing our world to Macbeth's. And we should be paying attention.