Review / Powerful performance of the ‘perfect’ play

theatre / “Macbeth”. Directed by Jordan Best for Canberra REP. At Theatre 3, Acton, until August 20. Reviewed by Helen Musa.

Roberts l. and Zuber r. as the Macbeths, photo by Helen Drum

The Macbeths… Jenna Roberts as Lady Macbeth and Chris Zuber as her husband. Photo by Helen Drum

“MACBETH”, I was once taught, is the perfect play and nothing in Jordan Best’s powerful production for Canberra REP detracts from that label.

Tightly focusing on the characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, it rises and falls with a kind of dark inevitability, while also providing terrific roles cameo and otherwise for all actors on stage.

Central to this production is the searing characterisation of Jenna Roberts in her best role ever as Lady Macbeth and Chris Zuber as her (at first) wavering husband. It is a major achievement that these two actors clearly delineate the intimacy and then the deterioration in their relationship as Macbeth descends into bloody obsession.

Director Best goes so far as to interpolate an upstage scene where we see the demented Lady Macbeth and her maid being despatched, it would seem, on the orders of her husband.

Roberts plays a youthful Lady Macbeth, excited and ambitious at first but gradually estranged from the bleak world she has helped create. Her sleepwalking scene is a well-studied look at the psychological consequences of her actions.

In contrast, it takes a while for Zuber to hit his straps, underplaying his earlier lines to the point of seeming detachment and only letting it rip when quite literally he lets his hair down, after the murder of Duncan.

A major achievement in this production was the great clarity of the articulation, so that every word could be understood. As well, the action was underscored by Tim Hansen’s carefully-judged, unnerving musical atmospherics, which never bordered on the banal.

By and large, Best has chosen to play it straight. The three weird sisters appear as shadowy, stylised figures, partly concealed at first so that they might almost be figments of Macbeth’s and Banquo’s imaginations. But in the banquet scene and the vision of kings produced by the witches later in the play, she simply follows Shakespeare, bringing the ghostly apparitions on stage as flesh and blood figures.

Having a large cast paid off in the banquet and the final battle scenes. This “Macbeth” gathers pace towards the end and all the ensemble handled the bloody (more than you’d expect) concluding scenes with macho vigour.

But the numbers onstage proved quite difficult to handle in the opening scene, where the actors seemed to be stuck on stage nodding  while Sam Hannon-Morrow as King Duncan showed us what a kingly ruler is like. It would have been preferable to have eliminated the supernumeraries and played it out to the audience.

“Macbeth” is full of wonderful small parts. Two of them are the attendant lords Lennox (Tim Sekuless) and Ross (Riley Bell), who, in finely played detail, helped us understand how the regime of the Macbeths has thrown the country and even the universe out of kilter.

Patrick Galen-Mules plays the heir-apparent Malcolm as a canny and cautious would-be ruler, showing just how he can unite the ravaged Scotland in the end.

Tony Falla, in a departure from his usual comic mode, played Banquo (both alive and dead) straight and strong, as a principled man becoming aware of his old friend’s sinister intentions.

Jim Adamik gives the evening its only comic relief as the drunken the porter at the gates of hell, clad in a kilt, slurring his lines in a sort of Scottish accent and interacting with the audience.

There is room, too, for old-fashioned Shakespearean rhetoric, too, in Cameron Thomas’ passionate rendition of Macduff, full of emotion and anger.

Michael Sparks’ spare, moody set allowed the rapid movement between scenes that is essential for a Shakespearean tragedy, especially one produced with few or any cuts. The upstage scrim allowed the revelation of some, but not too much, offstage action.

The costumes by Heather Spong mixed contemporary and ancient styles—boots and jeans, T-shirts, and furs for high rank. But in a glaringly obvious error in judgement, the soldiers donned poorly-made tunics in cheap fabric to indicate armour. These could and should (it’s not too late) have been dispensed with entirely.

This said, Jordan Best’s “Macbeth” is highly recommended as an intense, absorbing production of a tragedy that inspires pity, fear and release – just as Dr Aristotle prescribed.

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