The dangerous Scottish play beats the hex

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“DOUBLE, double toil and trouble, fire burn, and cauldron bubble.”

Lizzie Schebesta plays all the witches as one in an unnerving and apparently innocent way that may give you the shivers.
It’s a reasonable bet that most of our readers know those lines and that they come from Shakespeare’s doom and witch-ridden play, “Macbeth”.

There, I’ve said it. Many theatre people won’t even utter the name of the play for fear of what might happen to them and director Peter Evans, who used to be a sceptic about the superstitions associated with staging “The Scottish Play”, is revising his view after some kind of hex seems to be placed on the opening.

Bell Shakespeare had to cancel three previews and re-schedule opening night in Sydney because of a “horrendous” salmonella infection that swept around the cast and they lost a stage manager for two performances as well.

“We feel we have paid the gods of the theatre,” Evans says philosophically. “We’re hoping they’re smiling on us now.”

If he’s right, this dangerous, but enormously popular play should be a smash hit when it arrives in Canberra soon.

“People love it,” Evans tells me. “It’s been very widely studied at school.” What is more, he goes on, “it’s perfectly constructed, with no sub-plot and the focus on the main character”.

No wonder this is Bell Shakespeare’s fourth production of the play.

A distinctive feature is the domestic life of the Macbeths, “one of the best marriages in all Shakespeare,” he says, and one the company is building as “erotic”.

It’s the relationship between Macbeth, played by Dan Spielman in his stage debut with Bell, and his even more ambitious wife, played by Kate Mulvaney, that really fascinates Evans.

“Kate is very, very feminine,” Evans says. In rehearsals, they’ve worked out that she lost a child in early infancy, so their unique relationship is built on grief and sadness.

“How well they know each other!” he says, and yet he and his actors can trace the gradual breakdown of the marriage from the moment in Act III, Scene 2 when Macbeth says: “Full of scorpions is my mind dear wife”, then turns secretive.

Evans is thrilled to have Spielman. A veteran of Sydney Theatre Company’s ensemble, The Actors Company, he’s won a swag of awards for his film appearances.

It’s probably less well known, but Spielman is also a poet.

“He’s fascinated by the knotty and poetic language, so it’s not so much a bloody version of the deaths, but inspired and psychological,” Evans enthuses. “We see how his mind is unravelling.”

But beware of the witches, or rather witch, for Lizzie Schebesta plays all as one in an unnerving and apparently innocent way that may give you the shivers.

“Macbeth”, The Playhouse, until June 2. Bookings to 6275 2700 or canberratheatrecentre.com.au

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Helen Musa
“CityNews” arts editor

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