Theatre – Macbeth

Venue: PACT Theatre, Erskineville
Written By: Adapted from William Shakespeare
Directed By: Shelley Casey

Macbeth is a very “blokey” play despite the infamous Lady Macbeth, and the title character is a stereotypical bloke for whom action is more natural than talking. The play has a large, mostly male cast – kings, princes, lords, generals, captains, soldiers, messengers and servants – and it begins and ends on a battlefield. A challenge, and the palpable excitement of SheShakespeare, an all-female ensemble cast in meeting it, is a very engaging aspect of their performance.
Macbeth Adapted from William Shakespeare Director: Shelley Casey

Taking its cue from Justin Kurzel’s 2015 film, the performance, which unlike Shakespeare’s original script, begins with the funeral of Macbeth’s (Beth McMullen) infant and the bitter grief of her (yes, her) wife (Emily McKnight). While this seemingly small addition to the text might be intended to clarify Lady Macbeth’s otherwise mysterious reference to “having given suck”, it has wider ramifications.

Witnessing her despair and anger prepares us to see Lady Macbeth’s ruthless ambition as a deeply twisted response to the anguish of loss. Not only has she lost a child but also she has failed to provide an heir – a dynastic successor – and feels her own power in the Macbeth’s partnership to be diminished. At the same time, it clarifies for us Macbeth’s ambiguous and fearful response to the witches’ prediction that she will be Queen but without successors. (It must be admitted that there is a logical difficulty here about the existence of children in the first place.)

In this context, both Macbeth and her wife (the dialogue is consistent in identifying all characters as female) are equal victims of the cruel deception of the three witches (a truly malignant trio, Megan Bennetts, Lana Gay and Joy Gray). When Lady Macbeth learns of the prophecy she seizes on it instantly as a means of becoming indispensable to her powerful partner who, she knows, will need to be coerced into murdering Queen Duncan. However, both will be destroyed by guilt, Macbeth descending into increasing brutality to shore up her untenable position and Lady Macbeth, increasingly distanced from Macbeth, will commit suicide.

It is not difficult to adjust to “Queen”, “princesses” and “daughters” rather than the masculine equivalents and the absence of the accustomed references to husband and sons. Nor does entitling Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, both as “wife” lessen any of the dramatic impact of a powerful portrayal of the destructive effects of self-centred political ambition. Where, it seems, SheShakespeare’s performance does lack crucial impact – the announcement of Lady Macbeth’s death and Macbeth’s wearied response – the words are not given the full weight their importance to the play as a whole warrants.

It is hard not to respond to the almost joyful vigour that the ensemble cast takes in the scenes requiring fisticuffs, swords and knives. Women have been confined to the back seats of the battlefield for so long and now they have broken free, claiming their right to ungendered bloodletting. Also enjoyable is the use of the voice – humming, chanting and song – to maintain a sense of humane values in a stricken world.

The cast overall bring a special verve to their performances: the motherly tenderness of Lady Macduff (Sonya Kerr), the straightforwardness of Banquo (Suz Mawer), the not-quite-trustworthy bluster of Macduff (Erica Lovell), the bully-boy walk of the hired murderers (Rizcel Gagana Porter, Lovell, Bennetts and Gracie Naoum) and an absolutely spine-chilling Hecate (Prudence Holloway, also Musical Director). They are well supported by an evocative set and thoughtful staging. The provision of blankets for the audience was a much appreciated gesture.

Until September 8, 2018.

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