One might be tempted to think, “Oh great, another modern production of Macbeth that’s flailing around for a gimmick”, but let me correct you: This is not a production of Shakespeare’s ‘Scottish Play’, it’s a sequel. That’s right, a sequel to Macbeth. A sequel that begins with the Three Witches using an unholy spell to raise Macbeth from the dead as an undead killing machine bent on bloody revenge and a good meal of brains…
For all intents and purposes, this is ‘Macbeth meets Evil Dead’, or, perhaps more accurately, ‘Macbeth AS Evil Dead.’ While some of their advertising alludes to the more recent zombie-comedy film Shaun of the Dead, the specific reference point is inarguably that of Sam Rami’s Evil Dead movie trilogy, as several lines, props and other reference points make clear to those in the know. As someone who has seen over a dozen stage productions of Macbeth and watched each of the Evil Dead films at least twice, trust me: while there are a lot of in-jokes that will benefit from this kind of knowledge, anyone having even a passing familiarity with these disparate works will find a great deal to enjoy about this improbable show.
At the risk of spoiling some elements of the plot, the story picks up from the very moment that the Bard’s original left off, with Macduff having beheaded the tyrannical Macbeth and Malcolm being installed as the new king of Scotland. However, Macbeth is soon after resurrected as a zombie by the Weird Sisters and commanded by their mistress Hecate to conquer Scotland with an undead army. It is an endeavour he takes to with relish, but not before using a bit of necromancy of his own to return his beloved Lady Macbeth from beyond the grave as well. Meanwhile, as the kingdom begins to fall to pieces and kings come and go, the angst-ridden figure of Macduff is enlisted by the ghost of Duncan to journey into Hell and retrieve the one thing that can defeat this undead warlord, the dreaded Necronomicon…
This play is, simply put, delightfully audacious. Not only has writer-director David Mence had the boldness to take such an absurdly undergraduate (yet oddly logical) concept and put the effort into fashioning from it a well-developed narrative, but has even gone to the trouble of making this pastiche play a true sequel, maintaining tight continuity with the original, including and referencing characters and events from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, as well as developing the story forward with the inclusion of new characters who fit in seamlessly and employ familiar dramatic conventions, as though actual Shakespearian characters.
Perhaps the most astonishing move, however, is not the inclusion of shuffling Deadites but the fact that Mence has penned the entire script in full-blown faux Shakespearean dialogue. I’m sure a serious Shakespeare scholar would have little trouble picking apart his pentameter, but to a layperson – even one who has seen a lot of Shakespeare like myself – it comes across as quite a surprisingly good simulation of the Bard. The script actually seems remarkably authentic in an initial hearing, far surpassing simple “thee and thou” clichés and going to considerable effort to include authentic-sounding phrasing, suitably obscure vocabulary and keenly-observed mimicry of the structures and allusions commonly used in Shakespeare’s speeches. All the more hilarious, then, when these lyrical passages begin to incorporate words such as “undead” and “Necronomicon”, not to mention the plaintive moan of “Braaaains!” (For those of you who really have your fingers on the Gen-X/Y popcultural pulse, see if you can pick the lines lifted from the 1986 Transformers movie…!)
Having first crawled out of the grave in the form of a Melbourne University student production (no surprises there!) before becoming a surprise hit at the 2006 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, this is actually the third version of Macbeth Re-Arisen and apparently the most professional, featuring an elaborate set, excellent costumes and numerous gory effects that look terrific for what seems likely to have been a modest budget. Also featuring a much tighter script (the original incarnation was reportedly a four hours traffic of the stage, which probably would have been rather much) the current incarnation is a slick show indeed, with a very solid, energetic cast well-directed by Mence’s economical yet effective staging, facilitated by spot-on set and costume design by Christina Logan-Bell. Whether inspired by cost or fidelity to Shakespearean conventions, a lot of the action takes place offstage, but those yearning to see some horrendous bloodletting will still get their fair share, and the final duel is absolutely priceless.
Although my opinion of the show is overwhelmingly positive, there a couple of minor quibbles. Being mostly straight-faced rather than tounge-in-cheek, Mence’s adherence to Shakespeare’s style might confound those who are perhaps more Evil Dead fans than Bardoloaters, who may be expecting the show to be a bit more laugh-a-minute than the surprisingly literate work of ersatz Elizabethan theatre that they will receive. This is mostly a matter of taste and expectations, however, while a more objective issue is that the ending seems particularly rushed (although, to be fair, so does the ending of Macbeth, so it may be on purpose), with the metaphysical technicalities of the final confrontation seeming inadequately explained.
This, however, is far pickier than the show warrants. Macbeth Re-Arisen is a splendidly idiosyncratic script and an extremely memorable show that deserves to go on to wider success. Not to be missed!
Venue: Trades Hall, New Ballroom | Cnr Victoria and Lygon Street
8.00pm: 5-8, 12-15, 19-22 November
6.30pm: 9, 16, 23 November (Sundays)
Tickets: $25 (full) $20 (concession) $15 (preview)
Bookings: Easytix 9639 0096 or at easytix.com.au