Alanna Maclean May 22, 2012
Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, played by Dan Spielman and Kate Mulvany. Photo: Graham Tidy
"Macbeth" By William Shakespeare. Directed by Peter Evans. Bell Shakespeare; The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre. Until June 2.
Peter Evans's Macbeth is a spare production. The stage is a square where grass is struggling to grow, overshadowed by a huge, darkly reflective sky. Here a bearded Macbeth (Dan Spielman) meets a witch (Lizzie Schebesta) and the story begins.
Economy reigns in an attempt to get at the core of the piece. King Duncan loses a son, three witches are reduced to one possessed woman, the ''doctor'' and the ''gentlewoman'' do not witness the sleepwalking scene, and half the usual ''lords, gentlemen, officers, soldiers, murderers, attendants and messengers'' seem to go missing.
Someone who likes a court heaving with Scottish nobility, or who is fond of a good set of apparitions to show Macbeth that Banquo's issue will reign for generations, might object to all this. But it is possible to see Peter Evans's take on the play as a clear and strong one that cuts away the sound and fury and leaves something sad and deeply human.
And if you look up into that overhanging mirror, you just might glimpse the apparitions, thanks to the excellent design work of Damien Cooper (lighting) and Anna Cordingley (set and costumes).
The two at the centre are what it rightly all proceeds from. Spielman and Kate Mulvany (Lady Macbeth) play the terrible couple as very young indeed, and so very attached to each other. The youth of the pair also reinforces their lack of morality. Yet Spielman's quietly introspective Macbeth can see where their actions might take them; Mulvany's sinuous and single-minded Lady Macbeth can only see the immediacy of gratification.
Spielman's Macbeth never seems to stand quite straight. One wonders why Colin Moody's big soft Duncan would trust him at the beginning. The murder of Banquo (Gareth Reeves), happening almost in darkness, is topped by a marvelously edgy banquet scene with a very physical and blood-drenched Banquo's ghost haunting a king who has reached the throne through blood.
The Macduff murders are preceded by a brief but feeling scene led by Lady Macduff (Katie-Jean Harding). Macbeth himself comes in to do the deed; remove the murderers and you've got the person responsible, a disconcerting image.
Colin Moody's porter has a liturgical nightmare rather than the usual knockabout humour that can attend the tragedy's one piece of comic relief and Schebesta haunts the play in a series of minor roles while still wearing the mark of the witch.
The grieving Macduff (Ivan Donato) has his moment of revenge in a ringing passage of sword play and the upright young Malcolm (Robert Jago) will now take over, but there's no sense of the triumph of the next king at the end of all of this, just a moment where it all stops, like life.
Peter Evans's production has haunting insights, but is not one to be visited with a light heart.