By William Shakespeare. Presented by Canberra REP. Directed by Jordan Best. Theatre 3. 4 to 20 August 2016

Deft direction by Jordan Best, a brilliant sound design and excellent characterisation by the leads make Canberra REP’s Macbeth great to watch. Jenna Roberts’s Lady Macbeth is every bit as lustful, bloodthirsty and ruthless as you’d expect. Ms Roberts gives her character’s psychopathy a hypnotic quality. With distinctly different public and private personas, there’s nothing vulnerable about Lady Macbeth but at times she shows brief flashes of uncertainty and even surprise and a childlike delight at her own gall. Later, her tortured hand-wringing in the famous sleepwalking scene speaks of a truly unhinged mind. Jenna Roberts shines in musical comedy, and it was an education (to me, at least) to learn more of her range.

Chris Zuber’s Macbeth is besotted with his wife, giving her manipulative power. Between Lady Macbeth and the witches, Macbeth is almost weak, allowing himself to be propelled to murder. Other stand-outs were Sam Hannan-Morrow as Duncan, Cameron Thomas as Macduff and Tony Falla as an innocent Banquo oblivious to the implications of the prophecy. With 25 cast members, it was lovely to see the stage filled with faces young and old, which is presumably not a luxury open to professional theatres who have to pay their actors. There were some strong performances amongst the younger players, notably Patrick Galen-Mules as a passionate Malcolm. Finally, Jim Adamik’s cameo as the drunk porter was the most hilarious version I’ve seen, a bipolar mood swing right in the middle of all the blood and horror.

The set, lighting, and costume design were surreal, minimalist and deceptively simple, with a black false stage forming the centre and giving just enough height difference for dynamic blocking. The back of the stage was split from the front by a black scrim. All the supernatural effects occurred on the far side of the scrim, which the unobtrusive lighting gave a misty, unreal quality, as well as creating stage magic with people vanishing or seeming to pass through the scrim itself. With the set black and costuming muted, the bright red of the blood when it appears is visually startling. The violence was well practised and convincingly gory. One last and important element was the sound design by Tim Hanson. Full of unnerving low chords, the original music created an unsettling mood from the start, and was particularly effective during the witch scenes which were appropriately chilling.

The previous two Macbeths I’ve seen, Bell Shakespeare’s 2012 production and the 2015 movie, while both more ambitious, seemed to take themselves so seriously that at times they skirted near self-parody. This production was arguably less experimental and certainly with nowhere near the budget, but clever ideas and fantastic performances make this Shakespeare favourite a success.

Cathy Bannister

Image: Jenna Roberts  and Chris Zuber

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