Friday, August 05, 2016


Macbeth is my favorite play. My favorite book. My favorite collection of English words. The poetic beauty of the text, the directness of the plot, the representations of madness, supernatural, and reality, and the shear magnitude of the tragedy are what makes it so fantastic. But although, for all of these reasons, it is one of the easiest of Shakespeare’s plays to read, by the same token it is one of the most difficult to play. The sheer beauty of the spoken words, many of which are directed to nobody, makes it particularly challenging for  actors to value-add through their interaction with each other. Thus it is a rare stage performance which does the masterpiece justice. Luckily for me, the Canberra Repertory Theatre here in town has just put on a great production of the Scottish Play.

This is a gaunt production of Macbeth, with a spare stage and simple costumes. From the opening with the witches as a maleficent blur in the gloom of the stage, the focus quickly shifts to an astoundingly dynamic portrayal of Duncan King of Scots. He imbues the opening scenes with a generosity and a charismatic presence that shows all a king can be. Generous, charismatic, leader of a band of brave yet fragile Scots besieged by Vikings, and completely without guile, it is against this that the brutal but utterly bewitching ambition of Lady Macbeth must seduce, and the two of them wrestle over Macbeth’s heart for all of a lively Act 1.

Of course, we all know how that turns out, and from the moment the blood touches
Macbeth’s hands, he comes into his own, playing off a terrifying Lady Macbeth and a wavering Banquo in the maddening spiral that ends with Banquo’s Banquet. That astoundingly potent scene is followed by the intermission, presumably so that the audience can steady their nerves with a glass or two before coming back for Hecate and her hands.

The last two acts do drag a bit, as they feature many minor and less developed characters, and the witches riddle hasn’t been fresh for 410 years. However, the approach to Lady Macbeth’s downfall was new (at least to me), and as Malcolm and Macduff rouse themselves from their personal grievances and man up to take back control of their country, the play builds back up to its bloody triumph.

All in all, it is a superb production of the great play.


Chris Phoenix said...

Sorry to be a language stickler, but it's sheer, not shear. He said in sheer pedantry, hoping that the Lemming will shear off from counterattack.

Chuck Magee said...

Opps! I slipped (that's shear).