William Shakespeare’s Macbeth endures as a story of how encouragement and opportunity can prompt ambition to bloody deeds. Rather more civilised is being able to sit in a low chair in Melbourne’s Botanic Gardens with a cheeky drink, and watch a production by the Australian Shakespeare Company.
In Scotland, the man Macbeth (Hugh Sexton) is an effective general in the service of his king, Duncan (Dion Mills). Returning home with fellow solider Banquo (Tony Rive) from success in battle, the pair chance upon three witches (Annabelle Tudor, Madeleine Mason and Claire Nicholls).
The trio of “Weird Sisters” prophesise further honours for Macbeth, and a royal lineage for Banquo, which the men dismiss as fantasy. But when Duncan’s messengers arrive with the King’s gratitude and a new title for Macbeth as the witches foresaw, the pair start to wonder about the accuracy of their other predictions.
Some would take time to think, and some, like Macbeth, prefer action. Encouraged (and sometimes steadied) by his wife Lady Macbeth (Alison Whyte, no relation), the pair see the opportunity for advancement in Duncan’s visit to their castle Inverness.
There were times when, as the characters’ passions became inflamed, the clarity of the language decreased. And, the sword-fighting physics had some moments of being as unearthly as the play’s supernatural elements. Yet, performances were generally solid across the ensemble.
Whyte succeeded in making Lady Macbeth’s descent into guilt-induced madness believable. As the porter at Inverness, Kevin Hopkins preserved the Shakespearian device of some bawdy humour for comic relief after the grave act of regicide. Our witches showed talent with a quick costume change, putting a different slant on their relationship with Macbeth.
The production thoughtfully addressed the potential limitations of outdoor theatre. Designer Glenn Elston’s stage, set simply with a table and stools, and a (surprisinginly, not-so-fixed) tower, assisted by the lighting design, adapted to suit the story’s various locations.
The direction (also by Elston) did a good job of creating theatrical magic, such as when misdirecting us so that the ghost of slain Banquo (in a nice turn by Rive from loyal brother-in-arms to wordless tormentor) seemed to appear out of nowhere.
Intermittent rain falling on the Southern Cross Lawns added to the sombre mood of scenes after Duncan’s mysterious murder. Having bats flying overhead and screeching was a fitting accompaniment, and we would expect that the Weird Sisters would approve of this tidy production with some inventive flourishes.
Southern Cross Lawn – Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne
Performance: Thursday 11 February 2021
Season continues to 6 March 2021
Information and Bookings: www.shakespeareaustralia.com.au
Image: Dion Mills as Duncan and Alison Whyte as Lady Macbeth in Australian Shakespeare Company’s production of Macbeth (supplied)
Review: Jason Whyte