Me thought I heard a voice cry "Sleep no more! Macbeth does murder sleep," the innocent sleep.
A wonderful and atmospheric evening was had when AGS Drama students from Year 8 to Year 13 performed Shakespeare’s tragedy, Macbeth. The play set somewhere in Europe in the middle of the last century, under a dictatorship not too dissimilar to the one run by Mussolini and his wife in Italy. All students gave an outstanding mature and realistic performance intertwined with stylised moments of nightmarish charging armies, moving trees and beautiful choreography showing time passing.
The play felt relevant today, capturing the modern tensions and threats and reminding the audience that such horrific violence is not history but still happening with images of torture, civilians caught up in war torn zones and a brutal regime that buts its subjects.
The couple played by Dec Harris and Cody Stanley magnificently guide us through a traumatic journey, equally spotlighting political murder, unchecked ambition and corrupting power that are as important today as when Shakespeare wrote this captivating tragedy 400 years ago. A moment that stood out was when the couple watched an Opera as a letter is delivered, whilst on the stage below their forces are beaten in a woodland battle. Also the build up to Duncan’s murder and how their relationship falls apart in the bedroom chamber is another highlight.
It was a brilliant portrayal of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth as they walk upon a tightrope, whose balance of power seesaws as they expose an intense and complicated relationship. Both actors brilliantly captured dealing with individual trauma, war and no natural heirs that made their relationship incredibly personal and realistic. This was astutely observed by Banquo played by Sam Bell who was crisp in delivery, giving clarity to his observations that the Macbeths had played most foully for their success.
Dec shows many sides to Macbeth’s complex character that is not always a bloodthirsty tyrant, but a traumatised soldier trying to survive in an environment wherein he has been surrounded by death and violence; he is both precise and troubled. While Cody as Lady Macbeth, showed the darkness she is capable of bringing as she calls the spirits as well as a vulnerability as she sleepwalks amongst the audience with a lone balloon from the initial party.
The set, beautifully lit is a lightly shaded cold castle that has been ruined by warfare, reflecting a nation being destroyed from the top of the hierarchy and implicating its impact upon the citizens. It also had an interior and exterior feel that enabled the ensemble cast to capture murky woods, a hospital camp as well as a madhouse that Lady Macbeth meets her demise. The design captured a couple in distress as well as a sense of vastness and a sense of the epic that reflects the nation’s anxieties.
The witches (Sarah O’Shea, Freya Liddell and Issie Lakin) were calculating, charismatic, and cold, dominating the stage without being a medieval style cliché. What worked was seeing them in the background absorbing Macbeth’s monologues; the weird sisters observing the destruction as well as being part of a world where they appear as scavengers, waitresses, nurses and ordinary people caught up in the fatalistic qualities, as if they were seeking revenge by controlling of human destiny.
Those trying to stop Macbeth, led ably by Jon Luke Goodman as MacDuff and Alex Cottriall as Malcolm were supported by a striking military ensemble. More importantly they both captured the inconsistent Malcolm and Macduff who do necessarily represent virtuous human beings; after all Macduff so easily abandons his family. Throughout all scenes all actors were so engaging as they all had a specific role to compliment the leads and complete each ‘mise en scene’.
It comes as a surprise in our version to the thanes that when Duncan played royally by Tom Codd announces that Malcolm has been chosen as the heir to the throne. This is simply because in the original time period Shakespeare set it in, the Scottish dynasty was not about appointment by royal birth right, but by a selection through the thanes. They would have reacted angrily against Duncan’s nepotism. This was beautifully shown from the medal ceremony, the group photo to the party at the castle that showed a group of people jockeying for position.
The soundtrack sweeps the play along with majestic music from Philip Glass, Sigor Ros and Nine Inch Nail that is both dark and disturbing yet has a sense of the inevitable that echoes the play and the characters’ mind-set.
A massive thank you to Mark, Rick and Ken for their support setting up the play, but particularly for their construction of the set, beds, trees and rifles. A big thank you obviously goes to the cast and their parents who allowed them to be involved in an adventurous school production.
Out, damned spot! Out, I say! — Hell is murky Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?