bell shakespeare's macbeth

bell shakespeare's macbethOne of the things I love about seeing so many versions of The Scottish Play is seeing where each company takes it.

And, I have to say that Bell Shakespeare's production of Macbeth is all about the ladies.

Kate Mulvany's portrayal of Lady Macbeth was amongst the strongest I've seen... all sharp edges, barely contained rage covering a raw grief and one of the most dreamlike and mentally fractured "out damned spot" scenes.

And, something I don't know that I've ever seen before in Lady M, a dash of humour when she took the "that which hath made them drunk hath made me bold" line at face value and drunkenly hiccuped her way through the scene. It sounds strange, but it actually makes perfect sense within the context of the scene.

The two areas that usually mark the most difference between various interpretations of Macbeth are in the treatment of the ghost of Banquo and the three witches.

This is the first production I've seen where the two things are intertwined.

Firstly there's the single witch, performed by Lizzie Schebesta... her "black and midnight hag" is beautiful, blonde, ethereal and fragile... which just serves to make her even more otherworldly. And added to that is the vocal processing they used on her voice, giving this feminine creature a demonic and androgynous aspect.

She was also marked with a thick black line down the centre of her face... which added to the oddness because it was also there when Schebesta appeared as Fleance, the unnamed Macduff child, the wife of one of the Lords at the banquet and all of the minor servant roles, particularly at the end of the play.

Whether it's because all of these characters have some impact on the prophecies given to Macbeth by the witch or if there's some other interpretation, I don't know... but it was an interesting take on it.

Also interesting was the interactions between the witch and Banquo's ghost... I mean it makes perfect sense... the witch is supernatural, as is the ghost... but the staging of the banquet scene with the witch/Lady drawing Banquo's ghost to her lap and rendering him invisible to Macbeth was beautifully done and slightly disturbing.

But it wouldn't be Macbeth without the titular performance by Dan Spielman.

He delves the depths of the character's madness and ruthlessness, but there was something... weasely... about his performance that made him somehow less likeable. Yes, I know, a play about someone who murders his ways through king and countrymen and women and little children and I'm worried about his likeability...

But before his decent into blood and insanity... I don't know if likeable is exactly the right word, but there was something that I didn't connect with.

Although the decision to replace the minor role of the assassin of Lady Macduff and her household with Macbeth himself... which was a brilliant decision, firmly cementing the depths to which he'll sink to control his destiny.

The rest of the cast was much more ethnically diverse than I've experienced with Macbeth in the past... and I think the combination of that, the costuming and the set design made the whole thing feel particularly Australian.

The set design featured a tilted stage covered in "bushland"... grass and weeds and patches of empty ground, all of which was reflected in a Space Odyssey style shiny black monolith tilted in opposite direction to the ground.

The costume design also had something of a bush theme to it... the men especially felt like shearers or outlaws and Macbeth himself was channelling a particularly "Ned Kelly" vibe with the hairstyle and beard.

There was more of a 50's/60's vibe to the women's costumes... Lady Macduff being more of the former and Lady Macbeth having a slightly more vampy 60's feel to her look.

I'm not sure what was with the light blue military jackets for the men though... it did contrast nicely with the oranges of Lady Macbeth, and it was very visible on stage.... but it seemed almost out of place amongst the darker, more naturalistic colour palette.

Both the interpretation and the staging of the play also felt quite fresh. Other than the staging I've already mentioned regarding Schebesta's witch, they also took the moments in the play that either deal with internal monologue or private conversation and had all the actors not actively involved in the scene move in "slow motion", which was distracting at first, but became more and more cinematic as it went along.

Director, Peter Evans, and Mulvany, in her role as Dramaturg, have chosen to include more of the original text than I've seen in most other versions, but at the same time completely remove a number of the minor characters (or have them be played by the witch). The most notable example of this is the complete removal of Lady Macbeth's maid and the doctor during her "spot" scene.

A bold choice, but as I mentioned before about this scene, one that works brilliantly.

All in all, this was both one of the more original versions I've ever seen as well as being amongst the best.

And totally worth the trip to Sydney.

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