What: Signifying Nothing
Who: Starring Greg Fleet and Nicola Bartlett; written by Greg Fleet
Where: Holden Street Theatre
Hammond Fleet Production’s Signifying Nothing portrays a modern world of politics that is as brutal and bawdry as medieval Scotland. It sits in that category of adaptions that has been contemporised to great effect. Here is William Shakespeare’s tale of vaulting ambition, Macbeth, superimposed on the Western Australian political scene.
Greg Fleet has wittily adapted Shakespeare’s plot. Paul Macbeth, played by Fleet, is a Liberal MP representing the seat of Cannington. His desire for the Premier’s electorate and ultimately for becoming Premier himself lead him to carry out acts of betrayal, urged on by his inexorable wife, Lainey Macbeth (Nicola Bartlett). Fleet and Bartlett are the only onstage actors in the production, and as a result, their relationship falls continuously under the spotlight.
Masculine and confident, Fleet casts a powerful presence on stage. He oozes vaingloriousness and self-indulgence; he gestures grandly behind the lectern, orating to the masses, and haughtily flicks the cuffs of his sleeves. Barlett is equally impressive, if not more, and moves gracefully, beautifully, around the stage. Notwithstanding the cruelty of the Macbeths, their affection for each other was mesmerising because, if anything, it was pure. Just as moving was Lainey Macbeth’s adoration of her nine-year old son, who had died in an accident long ago, and whose apparition, in the throes of her madness, was a touching sight.
Their son appears in one of numerous video projections. Digital interactions make the production feel inhabited; FaceTime calls, emails and iPads make us forget that there are only two actors onstage. While the production wields technology well, the events of Signifying Nothing show that technology can be as disastrous as it is useful: scandalous photographs on an iPad ruin Premier Duncan, a telephone call seals Banquo’s fate, and spirits on the television haunt Macbeth. Meanwhile, the media, ruthless and demanding, feasts on every misfortune and rumour. There is a terrible potential in the click of a button.
Dialogue is a combination of Shakespearean verse and contemporary language. Macbeth’s favoured word, describing surprise, concern or colossal disaster, is ‘fuck’. He even employs varying degrees of this expletive, depending on just how arousing or astonishing the event is. Although crude at times, these words choices do effectively convey the stress that grips the play’s public figures. Fleet’s decision to include Shakespearean lines also works well. Anachronistic in the 21st century, and yet so well known, Fleet cleverly uses The Bard’s lines to amuse his audience.
In the end, Macbeth reigns alone, having killed his friend, destroyed his mentor, and betrayed the memory of his wife. As the lights go out, we clutch our stomachs with the same anguish as the man at the lectern.
3 1/2 out of 5 stars