Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Macbeth, June 9, 2017 ***1/2

By William Shakespeare, Melbourne Theatre Company
At Southbank Theatre, The Sumner, until July 15, 2017 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Fri June 9, 2017 
Stars: ***1/2
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online & in print on Tues June 13, 2017.  KH
Jai Courtney, Kevin Hofbauer- pic Jeff Busby
The narrative of Shakespeare’s Macbeth is propelled by portentous predictions and ill omens, so it is not surprising that theatre people are superstitious about any production of the play.

The fateful divinations begin in the first scene when three witches (Jane Montgomery Griffiths, Shareena Clanton, Kamil Ellis) prophesy that Macbeth (Jai Courtney), a revered general in the army of Scottish King Duncan (Robert Menzies), will be King.

Thus begins Macbeth’s bloodthirsty and tyrannical path to the throne as he systematically murders every possible threat to his royal accession.

The story is epic and the language of Shakespeare’s play is as visceral, muscular, tough and dangerous as is the title character, and Courtney has certainly played modern, tough guy roles in his Hollywood career.

However, he is unconvincing in the demanding role of Macbeth, his interpretation lacks texture and nuance, he looks uncomfortable on stage, and does not illuminate the poetic language and complexity of Macbeth’s speeches that are some of Shakespeare’s greatest monologues.

From the opening scenes, his Macbeth lacks the charismatic and commanding power of a military leader, so Macbeth’s indecisiveness looks like weakness as he wrestles with his plan to murder Duncan.

Courtney is strongest in the scene immediately after Duncan’s body is found when his volatile reaction drives the scene, but this dynamic energy is missing later.

Geraldine Hakewill is a girlish Lady Macbeth, a choice that leaves her lacking the dangerous womanhood and manipulative, grasping cruelty of the character, and makes Lady Macbeth’s shift from ambition to power and finally to madness, less than credible.
 Geraldine Hakewill, Jai Courtney pic Jeff Busby
Simon Phillips’ casting of the two leads may be problematic, but his direction is inventive, action-packed and staged on an effectively stark, grim and almost glamorous, corporate design (Shaun Gurton).

Phillips’ contemporary interpretation is Macbeth for the smart-phone generation, with Macbeth’s military campaign being run from computers, while messengers make phone calls and letters arrive as texts.

The production has some visually compelling moments, such as the startling, opening image of a flaming, wrecked car and the atmospheric, candle-lit banquet at which Banquo’s ghost (Kevin Hofbauer) appears.

Soaring music (Ian McDonald) and evocative lighting (Nick Schlieper) complete the haunting mood.

The supporting ensemble is capable, but there are two exceptional, magnetic performances from Robert Menzies and Dan Spielman who illuminate Shakespeare’s text, connect to the language and inhabit their roles totally.

Menzies has dignity as Duncan and is hilarious as the Porter, while Spielman’s grief-stricken Macduff is impassioned, sympathetic and absolutely credible.

Montgomery Griffiths is also compelling as one of the witches and as Lady Macbeth’s Nurse.

In a time when world leaders clamour for power, grasp at peace or hurtle toward war, Macbeth is a timely, cautionary tale of blind ambition and its bloody path that leads to chaos.

By Kate Herbert
Jai Courtney pic Jeff Busby

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