uatg's macbeth

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

macbeth by university of adelaide's theatre guildLast night I went to see another version of Macbeth by the University of Adelaide Theatre Guild... this makes at least seven versions (possibly eight, I'm sure we watched a movie version of it in school when we were reading the play, but I couldn't tell you what version it was).

Even the weather was contributing to the overall feel of the show, with wild weather and rain which could occasionally be heard on the roof during the quieter moments in the play.

Given that it was at the University of Adelaide, I think I expected that the cast itself would all be university students (which would at least be something different, a young adult version), and this theory was kind of supported by the fact that the crowd was quite young and there was at least one if not two high school groups there (I'm guessing English or Drama).

But the cast was actually not that different from what you would expect in any production of Shakespeare.

The set design was also fairly average, in fact it reminded me of the set for the Jeremy Sims version of the play I saw a number of years ago... quite dark, multiple levels but this one used a number of symbols relating back to the play... a stylised tree that grew up the entire left side of the double height set, the right hand side was given over to a design suggesting large stone blocks. And right in the middle of the "balcony" space was a large image of the actor playing Macbeth. That I could probably have done without to be honest.

But the double height/multiple level set was actually a really good use of space within a fairly small theatre. Whether it could have been used to greater effect during some of the sequences, I don't know (it would have been nice to see the witches up there), but overall I think the staging worked well.

And because nobody ever seems to want to sit in the front row right off the bat, I got a front row (more or less centre) seat no trouble at all... I always like that in plays, lets you feel like you're right in the middle of it all.

Speaking of the witches, having seen a lot of variations on the witches, from school girls to a constant presence on stage to disembodied voices in the dark to dance party participants the morning after, this was the first time I've ever seen blacklight used for the witches. In fact this is probably the first time I've ever seen blacklight used in Shakespeare.

And it was pretty damn effective, especially as the witches were wearing opaque plastic CSI style jumpsuits with white clothes underneath... combine that with essentially dark faces under the blacklight and the glowing suits... interesting.

Speaking of costumes, this was another "modernist" take on Shakespeare complete with cargo pants/SAS style gear for the battles and a white suit for the king. It actually reminded me of the VS Macbeth version last year, although with a slightly anachronistic mix of modern gear and some fairly gothic touches, most notably Lady Macbeth's propensity for velvet dresses.

As I've said, I'm pretty damn familiar with the dialogue of Macbeth, but as the play progressed there seemed to be dialogue I just didn't remember... whole sequences between familiar pieces of dialogue in fact. For example, I never remember hearing at the beginning of the play that they're actually at war with Norway before.

It turns out that this was actually an unabridged version of the play. They had a Q&A session at the end and while I didn't actually stay for it, I did manage to ask one of the crew guys... maybe the director, I don't know... about the extra text. As he said to me, Macbeth is Shakespeare's shortest play, so why abridge it in the first place (this version was 145 minutes not including a 20 minute intermission). While I didn't necessarily spot all the places where things had been restored, I think I more felt it from the general rhythm of the play.

And I may have actually known that it was unabridged if I'd remembered to take any money with me so I could buy a program... but annoyingly I didn't, so I'm not even sure who some of the actors were.

Which of course brings me around to the performances.

Unfortunately I think I now have an impossibly high yard stick for performances of Macbeth after the absolutely stellar version by Body in Space at this year's Fringe, so everything else is going to be judged against that version.

Having said that, there were some solid performances... I think the main stand out for me was Simon Davey as MacDuff... the emotion he puts into his performance after learning that Lady MacDuff and all the wee MacDuffs have been murdered is heart-wrenching.

But if I'm going to judge impact versus time on stage then the show is essentially stolen by Emily Branford in the role of the Porter. She has beautiful comic timing and commands the stage during the whole "knock knock knock" scene (Act 2, Scene 3). And even without any dialogue she stole the earlier scene where Macbeth arrives home.

I also thought that Karen Burns as both Donalbain and a young soldier in the final battle was excellent and made a strong impression, even though she has very few lines.

The titular Lord and Lady Macbeth (Brant Eustice and Amanda Shillabeer respectively) are both solid, although there's an odd combination or contrast between modern and "Shakespearean" cadence between the two of them which sounds strange but not in a bad way.

There is the occasional instance of "shouty" dialogue though, particularly when the emotions run away in the play, which works from an emotional point of view even if they are hard to hear.

There were also a few slightly spotty performances... one of the murderers, one of the "all purpose thane/soldier/cousin" types were a little underwhelming, but mostly the supporting cast was fairly good.

All in all though, a successful version of The Scottish Play.

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