‘Macbeth’ was bold.
Defying superstitions and braving the supposed curse, the Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble have transformed the Fringe Brisbane Hub into the moors of Scotland with their staging of… dare I say its title… ‘Macbeth’! Excuse me, I have to spin around three times and spit!
The story is an absolute classic that any theatre or literature lover should know, but if you missed Shakespeare week in high school English, here is your rundown. After returning from war, Scottish General Macbeth has his fortune predicted by three witches. He is to become the King of Scotland, a fate that is overtly encouraged by his wife, Lady Macbeth. To secure his destiny, he kills the king but will the paranoia and civil unrest that follows secure his demise? Drenched with death, Macbeth is one of William Shakespeare’s most popular thrillers.
Upon entry of the space, audiences walk past a preset Macbeth and Lady Macbeth stood vigil at the cross of their deceased son. The production attempts to draw a focus upon the loss of their son, and though this preshow moment is a noticed nod in this direction, the more traditional themes of death and destiny overshadow this subject.
Past the vigil, the small but welcoming stage is dressed beautifully with production design by Leah Fitzgerald-Quinn. Set with various wooden blocks and shelves, vines creep across the walls and warm candles glow scattered amongst books, lanterns and a chess set. Further enhancing the grungy aesthetic, the stage glows dimly green and deep-throated singing voices echo throughout the space.
From this preshow state to the end of performance, lighting design by Timothy James refuses to shy from the shadows, with a delightful use of bold colours and low angled lights. Throughout the show, characters nearly perform duologues with themselves as they are split into two, both metaphorically with the decisions they must face and almost literally with James’ shadowy design. This is most effective with the use of a spotlight that casts a shadow high onto the wall behind the characters, particularly effective during the scene when Lady Macbeth reads the letter from her husband.
This dark lighting design was further supported with sound and music by Rob Pensalfini. Throughout the performance, deep music enhanced moments of tension, whether it was sung or played by string or wind. As well as music, the recurring use of a beating heart raised the stakes and gave insight to moments of heightened stress.
As stakes rose from scene to scene, the transitions were most often led by the Witches, a clever decision from director Angela Witcher. The Weird Women would scurry onto stage and quickly rearrange the set before the action would commence. This is a choice that could be slightly more emphasised, alluding to the notion that perhaps the Witches do control all the characters’ fates after all.
Taking on the role of these Witches were Crystal Aarons, Ellen Hardisty and Leah Mustard. They brought a grotesque energy to the stage and worked well off each other, with moments of complete embodiment of the weird and wonderful. The man who they presented their predictions to, Macbeth, was played by Rob Pensalfini. Pensalfini brought intensity to the leading role, showing a clear divide within himself when faced with each new decision. Playing opposite him as Lady Macbeth, Rebecca Murphy was ambitious and taunting with a playfully rhythmic use of the Shakespearean language.
Across the board, the actors had a strong understanding of the Shakespearian language. Moments of physicality assisted audiences in recognising the nuance and jokes woven throughout the playwright’s words. However, more than just highlighting humour, physical movement was also well-used in moments of tension. A standout moment from the show was Macbeth and Macduff’s (Angus Thorburn) end fight sequence that included realistic and intense choreography.
Overall, Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble’s rendition of ‘Macbeth’ proved that a curse can be worth taking on. With a strong aesthetic component and dedication to the language, QSE’s first staging of ‘Macbeth’ was a spirited success.
‘Macbeth’ performs until Sunday 27 November 2022 at the Fringe Brisbane Hub. For more information visit their website: https://qldshakespeare.org/macbeth/