I've said it before and I'll say it again... I'm starting to have an obsession with versions of Macbeth...
It all started with studying it in high school... so I know the story, I know what's going on... but I've seen it six times now. I saw an amateur version years ago where the witches stayed on stage the whole time... a version with Jeremy Sims as Macbeth... last year we saw the very excellent VS Macbeth... I've seen the Macbeth movie set in Melbourne, and the Japanese reinterpretation, Throne of Blood...
But tonight's version, by New Zealand group, Body in Space, was quite possibly the most intense, moving and beautiful version of the lot!
It all starts with the location... and given that this was in one of the old gutted Regent Arcade cinemas, it had an incredible atmosphere (and we also managed to snag seats that were essentially front row centre... although possibly, seats to the right of stage would be preferable for certain scenes). And because of the location there was no backstage, no curtains, no wings... nowhere to hide... as we filed in, all of the actors were sitting around the stage, Macbeth in the centre, playing instruments and singing this beautiful but mournful song. And they stayed that way essentially... sitting around the stage in a half circle while waiting to perform, getting up to do their part, then returning to the seat and becoming a blank slate, ready to be filled by a new character.
I can only imagine that the way they performed the play is like travelling troupes of actors may have performed it in Shakespeare's day... they had no backdrops, no major costume changes, everything they use on stage is right there, either tucked away in the boxes they sit on (which double as chairs when needed) or just lay next to them, like swords and musical instruments. There also wasn't any amplification... it was all natural sound and echo from the location (which made it a little hard to hear certain lines... but honestly, it's Shakespeare, the lines aren't anywhere near as important as the emotion of the thing).
And there are only six of them. One woman and five men, all of whom, with the exception of Macbeth himself, play multiple roles (and occasionally furniture).
Even any necessary sound effects... horses or birdcalls or the sounds of "spirits"... are provided by the actors on stage. Very realistically in the case of the horses... and incredibly disturbingly in the case of the spirits.
In fact, the director's note in the program says that she chose to structure the play around the line "a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more"... and there is a moment towards the end that really reinforces that, but mostly it just felt like pure, unadulterated theatre.
It's also the only version of Macbeth that I've ever seen that made me cry. And that is squarely down to an amazing set of performers.
Both Douglas Brooks and Laura Irish are magnetic and emotionally raw as the titular Lord and Lady... I don't know that I've ever seen such incredible passion between the two characters, and it made sense to me that she could manipulate Macbeth to do such terrible things because he is so madly in love with her.
And that when she says "Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, and fill me from the crown to the toe top-full of direst cruelty!"... she's actually becoming a witch herself and bringing down spirits with her blood, something that I've not seen before in any of the versions, but which makes complete sense.
But Brooks broke my heart time and time again... his passion, his fury, his raw hacking sorrow. Irish too... there are moments, especially right before the interval, that just tore out my heart with how incredibly believable and real and raw she was.
Roger Sanders, Daniel Allen, Jeff Brooks (Douglas's brother perhaps?) and Luke Walton (Walton perhaps less so than the other, but only because he seems to have less parts to play) are equally good... although not as raw and effecting, they are incredibly mercurial, slipping from one role to another with ease and a completely realised character each time even before they speak!
From Sanders' going from regal king to uncouth porter to sexually ambiguous assassin, Allan's turn from crazed witch to gentlewoman (even with stubble) to the son of Macduff and Brooks' transformation from old man to young boy in a matter of moments.
I've seen versions where you become somewhat confused about who the limited cast are playing now... but in this, while I wasn't always sure who the character was right away, I always knew when there was a completely new character on the stage.
This truly was the BEST version of Macbeth I've seen so far! I'm incredibly disappointed that they're only doing three shows! They're in the midst of the second one as we speak and the third and final show is tomorrow at 7:30... I cannot recommend getting tickets highly enough!