Macbeth vs the Amphitheatre

Robbie O'Brien

BRISBANE FESTIVAL: Full of horror, violence, sex, murder and madness the story of Macbeth has all the grandeur and scale needed to fill the daunting outdoor amphitheatre that is the new QUT Festival Theatre.
Macbeth vs the Amphitheatre
Macbeth, as points out in his director’s notes, is an excellent play to christen the new QUT Festival Theatre. It is one of Shakespeare’s most well-known and oft-restaged plays and it is a true blockbuster among classics. Full of horror, violence, sex, murder and madness the story of Macbeth has all the grandeur and scale needed to fill this daunting outdoor amphitheatre. The steeply raked seats peer down on an Astroturf covered stage backed by the immense brick wall of the Powerhouse. Planes fly overhead, CityCats cruise the river and punters wander in and out of the Powerhouse itself. It must have been very difficult for Gow and his team to envisage how their production would fit into this demanding space, especially as it didn’t exist until this week. Despite the difficulties, this space also provides some interesting possibilities. It is certainly grand, which helps to lift the simple staging toward the epic. The necessity of mic’ing the actors provides an interesting chance to play with different vocal qualities without worrying about the audience losing lines. It also means the audience can clearly hear the actor’s breathing which sometimes provides an intimate sense of the character’s psychology and is sometimes quite distracting. References to the sky and the stars have a nice literalness to them and referencing the giant wall when talking about the beauty of Macbeth’s castle gives a fantastic sense of the weight and grandeur to the setting. There is also great potential in the surround sound set up, used to great effect at one point causing the audience around me to jump out of their skins. Space aside, there are a couple of beautiful images and the rugged, pared back design backs up the ruthless simplicity of the delivery that Gow is aiming for. The actors generally deliver the text clearly and effectively with Marcus Graham as Macbeth using his fantastic voice to make the most of his mic. But it is Helen Christianson, who provides the highlight for me in Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene, and Jason Klarwein who really looks comfortable on stage, balancing the energy required in an outdoor setting with the honesty demanded by the mics. Unfortunately there is an overwhelming feeling of timidity and discomfort about the production. While much of this may be due to the short rehearsal period – a couple of dropped lines, some offstage whispering picked up by the mics, a rather underwhelming fight scene – there are some more fundamental issues. The simplicity that Gow is striving for is very difficult to pull off in such a busy and demanding space. I can’t help but feel the amphitheatre is intended for the kind of production featured in the “artist’s impression” on all the press - big, spectacular and full of colour and movement. Where the space presents opportunities they are only half used. The intimacy of the mic’ing is undercut when the actors accidentally bump them, the surround sound is used only once – effective but ultimately distracting if not more consistently exploited, and the staging feels like it has been stretched out of proportion to fit on a bigger stage. There are also some odd directorial decisions. Playing the witches for comedy provides variation but the first scene effectively undercuts the horror that is to come and they only occasionally strike the balance between silliness and sadism that would make them truly frightening. Malcolm’s final speech, angrily barked at the audience, is an especially odd moment in an ending that feels rushed and the Astroturf made one friend think that the whole play was going to be set in a bowls club. Overall the production feels rather polite. It has the elements that should make a good show but the general timidity makes me wonder what the production is trying to do. Yes, the story is clearly told, despite the vigorous editing, but in a festival context, in a specially built outdoor amphitheatre and with such a well-known play it needs to offer something more. Even the idea of ruthless simplicity could have worked if it were rigorously applied. Instead this feels like a production that doesn’t really know why it exists. It seems this show hasn’t met the demands of the QUT Festival Theatre. I wonder if the next show, Circa’s Wunderkammer, will fair better? Brisbane Festival 4 – 25 September 2010 For more information on festival events see: www.brisbanefestival.com.au/ Macbeth Venue : QUT Festival Theatre, Plaza, Brisbane Powerhouse 119 Lamington Street, New Farm When: Tuesday, 07 September - Sunday, 12 September Duration: 105 minutes (no interval) Tickets: Adult $35, Concession $25, Groups $25, Preview $25 (includes all fees and charges) For more information see: www.brisbanefestival.com.au FEATURING Director: Michael Gow Designer: Simone Romaniuk Sound Designer: Tony Brumpton Lighting Designer: Jason Organ Fight Director: Scott Witt Cast Macbeth: Marcus Graham Lady Macbeth: Helen Christinson Banquo: Jason Klarwein Macduff: Peter Marshall Malcolm: Michael Mortimore King Duncan and Witch 2: Bryan Nason Witch 1 and various other roles: Kaye Stevenson Witch 3 and various other roles: Nick Newth
What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Robbie is a theatre performer, creator, writer and teacher. In 2010 he has performed in The Hamlet Apocalypse with The Danger Ensemble at the Adelaide Fringe Festival, in Dan Santangeli's Room 328 and A Catch of the Breath at Metro Arts and is Assistant Directing two of the La Boite Independents productions. He has extensive experience in devising new work and in various forms of creative collaboration. He has trained with internationally recognized artists in Viewpoints, Suzuki Actor Training, Meisner Technique, Butoh and Contact Impro and in 2008 he completed the SITI Company Summer Training Intensive in New York.