At any given time, somewhere in the world, someone is re-inventing Shakespeare. OK, maybe I can’t objectively back that up but it certainly feels like it.
Inner north indie theatre company Eagle’s Nest has been doing versions of Macbeth every year for four years now. The latest incarnation, playing on the old thespian superstition that the name of the play is cursed, is coyly titled m.
The text is straight Shakespeare, pared back for a small cast and comparatively tight running time, and sticks true to the dark tale of prophecy, assassination, tyranny and revenge. This production, however, is more playful than either the script's reputation or the somewhat gloomy posters up around Eagle’s Nest's stamping ground in Brunswick would suggest.
The acting is determinedly Aussie, more often laconic than tragedic. The witches are styled as apathetic emo teens; ghosts wear hoodies; Macbeth and his wife could be a couple squabbling in a suburb near you.
Director Colin Craig, a fresh graduate from the student theatre scene, has also been enthusiastic about finding unconventional ways to stage the classic script. The witches operate tech cues from a scaffold in open view; the king is wheeled around on a giant throne and curtains are pulled back to reveal treacherous activity in the wings. There are even a number of audience participation segments, including a tremendously fun staging of the final battle.
There is a considerable amount of inventiveness on display although at times it does feel like the production is trying a bit too hard to give the Bard a shake-up. The flurry of staging devices can at times distract from rather than enhance the story. This is particularly the case with loud action in the wings derailing emotive moments on centre stage. An increased focus on comic relief – the jester-like drunken porter, instead of clowning through a single scene, gets to stand in for just about every cameo you can think of – can also sit uneasily with the grim storyline.
Nonetheless, the show is capable of delivering some dramatic punch. James Adler brings a towering physical presence and brooding dignity to the role of Macbeth and there is strong chemistry among the leads. Ironically, in a show that is so set on being unconventional, some of the most powerful moments come when it’s played completely straight.
Eagle’s Nest have taken some interesting directions with m, although overall the production has a kind of drama laboratory feel to it, as if the company is using it to test out ideas. To be a wholly satisfying take on Macbeth, it would need some more judicious decision-making about which devices were working or not, but you certainly can’t fault Eagle’s Nest on their willingness to experiment.
Eagles Nest Theatre presents
by William Shakespeare
Venue: Broken Mirror | 2C Staley Street (level 1, Upstairs) Brunswick, Melbourne
Dates: Aug 11 – 28, 2011
Times: 8pm Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 2pm Sundays
Tickets: $17 – $27
Bookings: www.trybooking.com/RDO | 0415 183 824