Left - Briony Williams & James Jugton. Cover - Brendon McDonall & Chris Truswell. Photos - Fiona King
I have a confession to make. Before seeing Wildfire Theatre’s production of Macbeth I had neither read nor seen this famous play. Having heard snippets of famous speeches over the years, it was just one of those texts that somehow slipped through the cracks long after I’d imagined I’d end up encountering in full one way or another. Shame, shame, I know, I know. I’ll be waddling off to the couch brandishing a hefty Shakespearean folio later this afternoon, let me tell you. But this turned out to be my stroke of luck - sitting in the Cell Block theatre, a gorgeous sandstone hall at the National Art School, I was fortunate enough to experience this play for the first time courtesy of a vibrant, surprising and impressive production from one of the most interesting new independent theatre companies to pop up around Sydney in a long while.
Macbeth is, of course (ahem) a story of a man overcome by ambition and pushed to acts of unspeakable violence, first by his wife and then by his paranoia. Kinsman and close friend of King Duncan, the play opens with Macbeth being told by three witches that he will one day be King, immediately stirring Macbeth’s ambition and thirst for power. Murders, ghosts, prophecies, visions, some bloodthirsty violence and a few world-famous soliloquies ensue. Deliciously, many consider the play to be cursed as Shakespeare reportedly used ‘real’ Witches spells in the script, angering witches of the time leading them to place a curse on the play’s name – hence its myriad of other names used in order to avoid the curse, including ‘The Scottish Play’ and, apparently, ‘Mackie-whatsis-face’.
Strong performances from James Lugton as Macbeth, Patrick Connolly as Duncan and Gareth Rickards as Banquo all worked well. Briony Williams’ Lady Macbeth seemed a little self-conscious at times, but overall was gutsy, forceful, and seductive. The cast as a whole struggled occasionally with the echoing hall, and at times it was difficult to follow the dialogue, but overall this problem was kept to a minimum. Christopher Truswell offered an honourable and deeply-feeling Macduff, the man who, according to the Weird Sisters, Macbeth must beware. The fact that Truswell, among a wide range of performance roles, in a past life played Nudge from the classic Australian comedy Hey Dad! made the night just that much better.
For me, the three witches, known as The Weird Sisters, Rachel McNamara, Briony Williams and Amelia Kerr, who all take other roles as well, were a highlight of the night. Wearing richly decorated plumed masks and clutching thick spears, these three gave the audience some spry, joyously evil, sexual mischief-makers that won’t be easily forgotten.
Masterful set and costume design from Barry French and Clare De Mayo showed a high level of professionalism. Several high panels of material were hung as columns, giving the space depth and wider possibilities in the staging. What appeared to be swathes of linen and silk were detailed in wine, apricot and cream, with two remarkably true-to-life ‘stone’ statues of Scottish Warriors overlooking the action at the back of the stage. Lighting choices, presumably put in place through the combined efforts of Director Sandra Stockley and Consultant Liam Fraser made excellent use of the considerable height and length of the Cell Block hall, using golds and blues against the sandstone walls to beautiful effect as well as casting bright light down the aisle for actors to walk towards creating (if this is possible) a slightly apocalyptic feeling.
Stockley’s extensive experience with a variety of celebrated European theatre companies is clear in her strong vision for the production, using drumming, masks, and moments of stylised movement to great effect.
Rather than including yet another tired, paragraph-long manifesto in the program on how their company is going to shake up Sydney with breakneck, amazing theatre that’s never-been-seen-before by all us petty bourgeoisie, Wildfire Theatre’s Sandra Stockley and Producer Tim Bosanquet have got stuck into the work, bringing to life a classic tale of ghosts and witches, bloodthirsty violence, ambition, and self-destruction, and they’ve done it brilliantly. Bravo.
Wildfire Theatre Company presents
by William Shakespeare
Venue: Sydney's historic Cell Block Theatre, Corner Forbes & Burton Streets, Darlinghurst
Dates: 6th – 29th August 2008. EXTRA SHOWS ADDED - Thursday 28th & Sat 30th Aug at 8pm
Times: 10am & 1.30pm (Tuesdays, Wednesdays & Thursdays only)
Friday 15th, 22nd and 29th: 8pm
Tickets: $33 Adults, $28 Concession
Bookings: Moshtix www.moshtix.com.au
For more information please visit: www.wildfiretheatre.com