Macbeth: the Contemporary Rock OperaThere is something infamous about ‘That Scottish Play’. So much so that it’s still considered an ill-omen to even whisper its name in the theatre, except for when you’re actually performing it. Fortunately last night no one had the least hesitation to sing Macbeth’s name out loud. Playing at St Martins until the 31st of March, Macbeth – The Contemporary Rock Opera is a decidedly strange experience. At first you have to adjust to Shakespeare’s language, a process which takes at most 10 minutes (according to a conversation I overheard), and then you have to accept that the Bard’s words are being sung. It’s this conceit that an audience has to be willing to accept for without it, the show simply will not work for you as a viewer.

The music composed by Clarry Evans and Judy Stevens is very well-written and suits the mood of the story quite well overall. The libretto from Macbeth – The Contemporary Rock Opera, not only acknowledges it’s operatic forebears but also borrows quite heavily from the traditions of musical theatre, creating a show that mixes it’s musical styles, but not always successfully. The show is at its best when it indulges in the naturally dark world of betrayal and courtly intrigues, as it succeeds in drawing you into the twisted minds of the Macbeth’s. However whenever a song moves towards the light or comedic (which is justly needed), the contrast in musical styles is jarring, and has the unexpected effect of pulling you out of the story. Having said this, the soft-shoe shuffle that accompanied the assassins’ song about Banquo’s imminent murder, was so well-executed that the audience spontaneously applauded and rightly so. 

The set by Mark Wager is sparse but utilises its various levels cleverly to give the performers many different levels from which to deliver their words, a good example is the thrust platform serving as Macbeth’s castle balcony. Direction by Beth Child and choreography by Vanessa Ellis are simple and efficient and sit side-by-side each other without impeding the other. Polly Christie’s musical direction was enthusiastic and in keeping with the mood established by Evans and Stevens' score. It was also wonderful to see a pit full of musicians being utilised within the beautiful Randall Theatre. On a technical level there were some noticeable problems with volume on the performers’ microphones but this seemed to be smoothed out as the performance went on.

The performers seem to relish their roles and the music and their enthusiasm pervades the entire show. Adrian Corbett as Macbeth becomes stronger as the work progresses, but as physical presence he seemed dwarfed by the gruff Macduff (Dean Snook) and the excellent Banquo (Greg Pascoe). Angela Lumicisi’s Lady Macbeth is a little too melodramatic and her strength as a singer doesn’t require nearly as much physical action as her mere presence is enough. The ensemble work throughout was excellent with the great attention being paid to the quality of the harmony of the various voices. The witches were particularly well-realised. Special mention must be made of Tiffany Loft who performance as Lady Macduff was mesmerizing.

There was perhaps only one disappointment of the evening and that is that the story was so well-known and so offered very few surprises. It would be wonderful to see Evans and Steven apply their musical expertise to an Australian story, as I’m sure the results would be just as compelling.

Dianne Gough Productions presents
Macbeth: the Contemporary Rock Opera

Venue: St Martin’s Theatre
Dates: 21-31 March, 11am and 8pm
Tickets: (includes all fees) $16.50 to $29.50
Bookings: 1300 657 520
Enquiries: 9826 3346

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