MacbethSomewhat ironically, given the nature of the play, Bell Shakespeare’s current production of Macbeth suffers from a distinct lack of ambition. Performances are uneven, dramatic tension is continually undermined and the stakes are simply not high enough.

Of all Shakespeare’s plays, Macbeth is one of the most familiar to modern audiences. The descension of a once loyal servant into a world of witchcraft and tyranny, his willingness to perform unspeakable acts and the extremities he must go to obscure his treachery, has proven to be a favourite for audiences and performers alike.

But this production, under the direction of John Bell, fails to reach the other-worldly plane of the play, instead operating somehow on a far more domestic scale – the gravity of the circumstance is never quite captured, Macbeth accepts his fate readily with little sense of a moral struggle, and his ultimate defeat is purchased too cheaply. Even the usual theatrical spectacle of the witches or a decent stage fight, are neutralised by tame directorial choices.

The simple set design (Jacob Nash) looks quite spectacular at times, particularly under Matt Scott’s lighting, but unfortunately doesn’t help the actors much. A collection of military junk on both sides of the set cramps the active area of the stage, while “off-stage” actors remain visible amongst the clutter in the on-stage wings. Leaving actors onstage even while they are not performing is a common enough device but in this case, is used to very little effect. They are as often as not, a distraction and rob some scenes of their surprise and spontaneity.

There are some good performances – Linda Cropper gives a solid performance as Lady Macbeth and Timothy Walter as Malcolm, the rightful heir to the throne, emerges strongly in the second half. David Whitney at times verges on the histrionic as Macduff but manages to inject the production with some real passion and sustain the intensity of his character throughout.

Robert Alexander, in dual roles, is good as the Doctor, but as Duncan, fails to clearly establish the office of the King. David Hynes, in the one comic scene of the play, does a good job as the laid back Porter, but in his other role as Seyton, his lack of energy works against the mounting tension at the impending battle.

Sean O’Shea as Macbeth gives a performance of patchy intensity. To be fair, there are some nice scenes but pivotal moments are played casually, punctuated by disproportionate outbursts of emotion that seem to come from nowhere and are forgotten just as quickly. Doubts and moral ambiguities are dealt with too quickly to have any believable meaning and as a result, the journey of the main character appears less like the seduction of a good man into evil and more like a petty thug who just couldn’t wait any longer.

In the end Macduff’s victory over Macbeth comes way too easily, robbing the audience of any satisfaction it may have felt at the tyrant’s defeat. Having failed to successfully win our sympathy or provoke our revulsion, what should be the climax of the play peters to a predictable and somewhat underwhelming finish. Sadly, a fitting end to this less than inspiring production.

Bell Shakespeare presents
by William Shakespeare

Reviewed at The Clocktower, Moonee Ponds

This production is touring various venues - for full listings goto

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