QTC and Grin & Tonic Theatre Troupe
March 24 – April 13 2014
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
With Super Star funding to bring out one of the UK’s most respected directors, a stellar local cast and Queensland’s original Shakespearean company co-producing QTC’s Macbeth, what could go wrong? At first glance, absolutely nothing, it’s perfect! Isn’t it? It must be… But then there’s that thing that happens when you leave the theatre and don’t know what to say about a show. And then ponder it for well over a week before writing anything about it. And then ever so vaguely fear the repercussions for speaking a different truth. But not really. But… Well, you know.
After much thought, it appears even to me that I should see this production again. My response after the first viewing is troublesome, and apparently, starkly contrasting to popular opinion. I know this because we had our first 2014 Matilda Award committee meeting last week and the discussion centred around the fact that others are raving about Macbeth. That’s okay. Great! What would we have to talk about if we all agreed on everything? The fact here is that I left this show unsettled for all the wrong reasons. I’m so disappointed that I’m so disappointed.
Strangely, but not, the stars of the show are the set, sound and lighting. Simone Romuniuk’s design is incredible, fantastic, all the superlatives, comprising from the deepest recesses of her intriguing mind, ancient trees bound in places in bandages and promising fairy folk or some other population of wild, climbing, cajoling forest creatures (although not delivering – we’ll get to that) and multiple levels – wide, deep steps that serve as the floor of each place in the play, all magically lit by David Walters against an eerie soundscape by Phil Slade.
The opening moments are truly magnificent, despite going on for slightly longer than necessary. The powerful impact of the first few flashes of bright white light and the beating of battle drums is diminished after several moments, nevertheless succeeding in setting the high-stakes and raising our expectations. Mine are not entirely met. I don’t feel for anyone other than Banquo and Macduff, and eventually, it’s true, for Lady Macbeth, because what woman doesn’t recognise the self-doubt, self-loathing and slow descent into madness after the manipulation of a man has gone horribly wrong? Just saying.
The witches – those infamous wyrd sisters – come organically from the earth; writhing, twisting and melting into one another, in the best sense of the words. It’s a bit too Wakakirri and I don’t love it but others appear to. OMG THEY LOVE IT. Perhaps they are the few who haven’t seen the like before. Perhaps they don’t get out much. Something similar this way comes quite often when we combine the female form, contemporary dance, dirt, body paint and torn bits and pieces of costumes that serve as only a semblance of modesty. (What? Ohhhh, the school bookings! Right!). Despite the highly physical performances and their clear commitment to the roles, I feel that Ellen Bailey, Courtney Stewart, and particularly Lauren Jackson, are underutilised. (Jackson shines in a different light for a moment as Lady MacDuff).
And look, if there’s a Year 12 cohort looking for Semester 2 Physical Theatre inspiration, by all means…
But what strikes me is this: why have that awesome set towering over them and not have them appearing out of it (and disappearing into it)? I was literally waiting with baited breath to see the witches drop down from Romaniuk’s trees and scramble up their immense trunks, never really leaving the space. Imagine noticing, from time to time, as the plot thickens, each gorgeous figure stretched out along a twisted, damaged limb high above us, watching the entire world of the play unfold…
Jason Klarwein’s Macbeth is at first glance dark and brooding and moody and…mostly shallow. There, I said it. There are moments – glimpses – of the real thing but I don’t very often feel I can believe him with so much surface level stand and deliver going on. What’s worse, and deeply inconsiderate, is that Klarwein gives his Lady Macbeth nothing; there is no connection between he and Veronica Neave, at least not for us, and while she works hard at it, Neave lacks the intensity, ferocity and super sexiness of the manipulative (merry) murderess. (She could do with a little more Velma Kelly-ness. It wasn’t until later, when I was washing the blood off my hands, I even knew they were dead.) It’s her eyes wide shut scary obsession with the blood on her hands, which finally convinces me of Neave’s take on the famous wife. In the most controlled, contained manner, she gives everything she’s got and it’s affecting to say the least.
And what about the boys? Well, let’s just get this out of the way. Wouldn’t you think getting so many good-looking males on stage demands a shamelessly exhibitionist, shirtless, all-in sweaty bloody brawl *or something* at some stage? Yes, I thought so. A missed opportunity, after some fighting falls a little flat. Not the extreme violence we were warned about. However, no matter how desensitised we might be, Macbeth’s death is just about as bloody as it gets, and it’s a fantastic, highly theatrical moment. It’s actually, ironically, as real as we’re ever gonna’ get on stage. Interestingly, like Neave’s, it’s Klarwein’s final convincing moments that resonate most with me. I enjoy performances by Steven Rooke, Thomas Larkin, Timothy Dashwood and Lucas Stibbard, but the standouts are Andrew Buchanan as Macduff, who is as broken as he can be upon learning about the death of his family, and Tama Matheson as Banquo, who is just perfection, obviously. Can we keep him now? These two, vocally and emotionally pitch perfect from the outset, along with the fine enunciation and vocal expression from every cast member, make this Macbeth a dream for English teachers and students, thousands of them apparently, and that can only be a good thing. How wonderful to get every word perfectly clearly, when so often it’s the Round Robin reading of the play or the attendance at a less precise production that turns a student off Shakespeare for life. Director, Michael Attenborough, has given us that at least. So while it’s not my favourite staging, it may well be yours.
Yes. It’s the Macbeth we had to have, and far from turning anyone off Shakespeare, it’s placed the bar in a rather odd spot, neither raising or lowering it, but offering something plainer than it is wrapped up to appear and without cinematic images flickering across its dense set (I know right? This is a good and novel thing!), which will wow the first timers, satisfy the English teachers, and well and truly suffice for all those smart enough to keep quiet when good money has been supposedly well spent. Oops. Okay. Clearly, I don’t fit any of those descriptors and I don’t feel this production was a good fit for me.
None of this changes the fact that you must see it. In fact, I’m sure you already have done. Good. See you at A Tribute of Sorts.