Three words can describe Bare Naked and Class Act’s production of Macbeth: simple yet effective. This performance of one of Shakespeare’s best known tragedies is a dark, stripped back production directed by Stephen Lee. I’m in two minds about this production. I enjoyed the depiction of the words but missed the dramatic and ‘performance’ element.
I haven’t seen the companies perform before, and so I was pleasantly surprised at the intensity and understanding the cast had on the language. The age of the cast enhanced the production - a young Macbeth doesn’t ever seem to work (compared to a young Hamlet which is spectacular, but that is another story).
For a small cast of six, they managed well with the constant changing and multiple characters. The downside to this was the lack of personality with the smaller parts. Simple costume changes and minor voice changes were undertaken, but there was very little character development.
Indeed, that was a fault of the show itself, in that it focussed primarily on the words, rather than the background / development of the character. In an effort to scale down the show, they lost many of silences and visual interactions that may have brought further depth to the production. So too, did they rarely stop for breath between scenes, giving the audience no chance to stop and digest what may have happened in the scene prior. This is always a fine line to walk as there is the chance that scene cross-overs drag out, or silences become uncomfortable. In this case, a few more pauses would have been beneficial.
One particular scene that could have done with a pause was where Macduff’s family is murdered. Slow to begin, the scene picks up and almost without knowing it, the boy (Angelique Malcolm) dies followed by Lady Macduff (a bland Olivia Hogan). It’s a pity that the scene afterwards between Macduff and Malcolm creeps on for so long, it is by far the worst scene in the play - in any version.
A bare stage - the set merely a few low boxes and branches, put the emphasis on the performers and the costumes. Designed by Meredith Ford, these costumes are plain medieval outfits in neutral colours. They were a little rough and ready (no hems), but well designed, with good attention to detail such as clasps and belt buckles. The shoes were a little less professional - it was evident some of the cast were wearing uggboots.
Live sound effects produced with percussion, thunder board and flute/recorder greatly enhanced the atmosphere. The lighting by Aaron Stirk was gloomy yet effective, and the light flashes for the weird sisters were striking.
Macbeth, played by David Meadows, was portrayed as a man fast loosing his moral compass as greed overtakes him. He becomes a heartless tyrannical king who fears for his throne, able to kill those who get in his way. Meadows gave a strong powerful performance as the haunted, tortured Macbeth.
The fight scenes were commendable. The fight between Macduff (an angry Dan Luxton) and Macbeth at the end of the play is fast, powerful and menacing in the small space. Real swords (as these looked to be) are heavy, so kudos for the two gentlemen who looked like they fought everyday.
The vital role of Lady Macbeth (Angelique Malcolm) bordered on the overly dramatic and was a stereotypical performance, although the interaction between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth was convincing. Director Stephen Lee, playing multiple roles (Duncan, Old Siward, and various smaller roles) was efficient yet unspectacular.
I continuously have issues with the weird sisters (aka the witches). They are always played as a literal translation of the text - strange, ragged hags. Lee’s program notes suggested he would be undertaking something alternative with the sisters (Olivia Hogan, Angelique Malcolm, and Ian Bolgia). Sadly I watched the same stereotypical slow moving, hand waving, covered face hags. It was a disappointment.
The play as a whole lacked the dramatic flair that can create a brilliant Macbeth, although I still found myself drawn in and absorbed in the performance. Whilst it was easy to understand and the cast brought to life the written word it lacked the performance side. This is one for the scholars out there, not for those who want a show.
Class Act & Bare Naked Theatre Companies
by William Shakespeare
Venue: Subiaco Arts Centre, 180 Hamersley Rd, Subiaco
Dates: June 24 to 28 (8pm and three matinee performances)
Tickets: Standard: $32.00 Concession: $27.00/$20.00 (groups & other discounts available)
Bookings: BOCS (08) 9484 1133 or www.bocsticketing.com.au