Thursday, 19 June 1997

Marty Putz, June 19, 1997

Macbeth by William Shakespeare
Arthouse Theatre Universal Theatre II until June 28, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around June 17, 1997

It is a brave company that tackles Macbeth. Arthouse Theatre, directed by Bruce Alexander who also plays the lead, has taken the plunge but has simplified the task by whittling Shakespeare's four-hour text down to a pithy ninety minutes.

Now, this means the company of fourteen actors and two musicians can get their hands on all the meaty speeches without the filler. It is intelligent editing but it often forces the action along too swiftly and scampers over significant details such as who is playing whom.

The piece is stylised and approaches the murderous plot by abstracting scenes. This allows the cast to chant, to stylise fight scenes, feasts and murders and the musicians to provide with an evocative soundscape by Nick Livingston. Alexander has created some vivid, startling images that are enhanced by a striking lighting design by Jilly Judges.

The stage design (Mark Anstey) is a stark collection of wooden posts and metal pole construction. The witches perch precariously up poles throughout the play, emphasising their constant control and connection with the Macbeth's fate.

A great text, however, does not automatically make a great performance. The words become banal in the mouths of actors who cannot meet the challenge. Macbeth and his girlish wife might have been worrying over his running over the neighbour's dog rather than murdering the king and most of the rest of his court.

Their superficial passion for each other becomes risible. The weight of the tragedy and impact of the dark, portentous world of the witches loses potency as the minutes drip away.

Many of the cast skim the surface of the language, disconnected from the layers of meaning and with no vocal power. Nothing appears to be happening inside so they rush those magnificent speeches like shopping lists. It became a series of fairly static talking scenes strung together with physical-visual scenes.

There is some good text work from Emily Buxton as Lady Macduff and the witches are interesting if a little predictable in their mud-spattered, bare-breasted rag outfits. It was a valiant but perhaps too ambitious project.

And remember that old theatre superstition. If you say 'Macbeth' inside the theatre you have to go outside, spin around three times, cough, sneeze, spit, knock and be invited back in - or something like that. I think the witches say so just after "hubble bubble”.


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