Theatre Review: Macbeth

Where: Dunstan Playhouse

When: 29th August to 16th September

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is often spoken of as a tale of tragedy, war, and trauma. The SA State Theatre Company’s bloody new take builds on all these themes, and adds an element of creeping horror that brings this tale of political ambition and immorality to innovative and fresh heights.

Anna Steen_Photo by Chris Herzfeld - Camlight Productions
Anna Stein. Photo: Chris Herzfeld

Nathan O’Keefe’s titular Macbeth is excellent, imbued with manic energy, vacillating between confusion, rage, and despair with skill. Macbeth’s infamous soliloquys – “Is this a dagger which I see before me?” “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow…” – are delivered without pomposity or bravado, instead illustrating the anguish weighing upon Macbeth’s already fractured psyche. Anna Steen’s Lady Macbeth was particularly fantastic, the perfect balance of venom and fear, ambition and desperation. From the moment of her audacious entrance, Steen commands the stage, every inch the traumatised, cunning femme fatale one should expect. Director Geordie Brookman’s decision to foreground the Macbeths’ loss of a child at the start of the play underlines the trauma and grief potentially driving their fatal decisions.

Anna Steen, Nathan O'Keefe_Photo by Chris Herzfeld - Camlight Productions
Anna Stein and Nathan O’Keefe. Photo: Chris Herzfeld

The real star of this production, however, is Rachel Burke’s Witch, standing in for Shakespeare’s trio of Weird Sisters. Blindfolded, covered in filth, and dripping and spitting blood, Burke’s Witch looks more like a figure from a modern horror film than from the Bard. Never leaving the stage, the Witch lurks and loiters in the background, influencing every scene and act and bringing an element of creeping gothic horror to the play. The ever-present horrific hag forces a re-evaluation of Macbeth, adding a visceral externalisation of wicked fate to a study of the depths humans will sink to for power.

Anna Steen, Nathan O'Keefe 2_Photo by Chris Herzfeld - Camlight Productions
Anna Stein and Nathan O’Keefe. Photo: Chris Herzfeld

Victoria Lamb’s set and costume design modernises the play without specifying a particular era, an elegant way to update the tale for new audiences. Stained concrete, rusted pipes and Doc Martens’ create a prison-like combative atmosphere, which seemed somewhat reminiscent of East Berlin before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The harshness of the setting is emphasised by Geoff Cobham’s stark lighting, black, white, and grey, eerie blues and greens and bright, blood-like red. Similarly, DJ Tr!p and Andrew Howard (composer and sound designer respectively) create a prickling, dissonant sound that builds the tension and adds to the horror.

Rachel Burke, Peter Carroll, Anna Steen, Nathan O'Keefe_Photo by Chris Herzfeld - Camlight Productions
Rachel Burke, Anna Stein, Peter Burke and Nathan O’Keefe. Photo: Chris Herzfeld

Some of the exposition scenes do seem muddled and a bit rushed. Whether this is from a focus on the action and atmosphere, or from abridging or updating Shakespeare’s dialogue, the play does seem to want to rush through explanations to get to the good stuff. But when the rest of the play is this good, it’s easy to understand why. The play is a triumphant re-telling of Shakespeare’s classic, updated and destined to horrify you.

– Brydie Kosmina

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