state theatre company's macbeth

Imagine, if you will, a combination of The Scottish Play, a suspense/horror video game set in an insane asylum and a post apocalyptic world at war.

That's probably the best jumping off point to start talking about the State Theatre Company's production of Macbeth. As always, my history with Macbeth is long and varied, but I will say that every time I watch a new version I'm always collecting details to add to the one that I would make (if that ever just randomly happened). And this production, directed by Geordie Brookman, had a number of those details.

Starting with the set design by Victoria Lamb and the lighting design by Geoff Cobham, you feel the weight of the play right from the moment you step into the theatre. As I mentioned before, the set feels very, very much like a run down, broken space, and the first thought I had was of an old insane asylum, but then the moment when the table first appeared absolutely wowed me and made me look at everything with fresh eyes. And there were other unexpected moments like that throughout the play that surprised and amazed me.

Likewise the lighting was amazing throughout. From the barely lit pre-play moments though to the very end, the lighting added another level to the characters and the setting, particularly the varied uses of the high up windows within the set. And because a lot of the lighting was very, very bright, the moments when the stage was plunged into darkness were totally black which is always what you want from a play like this. I think my favourite lighting moment was when Macbeth speaks with the assassins, just the way he's lit partially in green versus them under downlights, gorgeous.

Lamb also designed the costumes, which really went for the post apocalyptic/warrior vibe, not flashy, but perfect for the characters and the world they enhabit. A particular standout was the witch, partially due to the choice to dress her in colours that were much closer to those of the set than anybody else so at various points she disappears slightly, but also the decision to mask off her eyes. That definitely contributed to the suspense/horror vibe, as did the decision to have her drool, spit or pour blood on other characters throughout the play.

Speaking of which, this is by far the bloodiest version of the play I've ever seen. By the end the majority of the cast is slathered with varying degrees of gore, and the play even starts on a scene of blood, leaning into the idea (as I've seen in a number of other productions) that Lady Macbeth was pregnant and lost a child, in this case seemingly to miscarriage.

If I have any complaint from the production standpoint, it's relatively minor and concerns the music. DJ Trip has put together a unique electronic score for the production, but, at least at the beginning, I found the music slightly drowned out a couple of the performers. As the show progressed they either addressed that if it was an unintentional technical issue or I grew accustomed to it, because I'll admit that by the end I barely noticed the music on a conscious level.

As the titular Lord and Lady, Nathan O'Keefe and Anna Steen are incredibly strong. O'Keefe has moments of genuine madness towards the end that can sometimes be lacking and is at other times truly frightening. Steen has some brilliant moments, not least of all the traditional "out damn spot" scene, which was heightened in this production by using the witch and the fact of Lady Macbeth's eventual suicide and combining all three elements together, which is both acted beautifully, but also a brilliant choice for the story. I will say that their chemistry as a couple wasn't perhaps as strong as it could have been. There were moments, but in this production I really thought of them as two independent characters rather than as a malevolent duo most of the time.

While I've mentioned her a couple of times already, Rachel Burke as the singular witch was phenomenal. She never leaves the stage and will often drift behind the characters, moving incredibly slowly, only to lurk or drool blood on a murdered character or otherwise interact with them in an otherworldly fashion. Add to that the fact that she also fills in as both Fleance and Macduff Jr and masterfully transforms her personality for both of the characters, while still keeping her witchly appearance.

Her turn as junior Macduff also lead to one of many, many brilliant small directorial details that were littered throughout the play. As she is both the witch and Macduff Jr, when Macbeth appears and stabs the child, it is Lady Macduff who receives the wound, even though she hasn't been touched.

I also totally appreciated that as the play progresses the people that Macbeth has murdered appear as parts of a dead chorus, and in the final pre-battle madness they fill in as guards and stewards and the doctor, leaving you never completely sure whether or not Macbeth is just talking to the voices in his head or to actual people or to projections by the witch.

Another stand-out for me was Elena Carapetis in a very small role as Lady Macduff (as well as being part of the dead chorus and one of the murderers), and while I'm incredibly glad that they gave her that role because she's excellent, I really, really wished we'd seen more of her throughout.

All in all this is definitely a very strong outing for The Scottish Play with some incredibly strong directorial choices and beautiful performances thoughout.

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