Review: Vs Macbeth

by Jane

Vs Macbeth
(most of it) by Shakespeare
Directed by Sam Haren
Presented by The Border Project, The Sydney Theatre Company’s The Residents and the Adelaide Festival of Arts

Vs Macbeth was an odd theatre show: a production which worked the best in the constant reminder that it was a theatre show.  Rather than being sucked in by the characters and the story, rather than being exposed to a world and feeling that it is so complete, Vs Macbeth is about something much simpler about that: it is about actors acting.  About a group of people coming together to create something, but with the artifice of the theatre always present.

Cam Goodall shows off a brilliant unemployment beard. Theatre: the only place you can be paid and own one.

Credited as mostly written by Shakespeare, Vs Macbeth is a production of Macbeth with all of the mistakes left in.  Even amongst non-theatre people, the ‘curse’ of Macbeth is well known (if not completely understood – I had a friend mention it by name once and then apologise, profusely, even though we were far from a theatre): a play that is so plagued by death and accidents that its name mustn’t even be uttered in a theatre, and instead it goes by The Scottish Play.   Taking this idea and running with it, The Border Project and The Sydney Theatre Company’s The Residents (now there’s a name for you!) created a play which ‘tempted fate’, mistakes were chronicled, and put into the play.

What I liked about the production was this breaking down of the artifice, which was, of course, in itself completely artificial.  Sometimes it didn’t quite work – in particular, when Arilio Zavarce cut down one of the “support poles” on the rear wall, the side that the axe “hit” remained intact, while the pole “broke” from the other side and made a slow and controlled fall towards the stage.  But when it did work, it worked wonderfully, and the line between what was real and what was planned was not only blurred, but completely indecipherable.

Of course, I have a feeling that it was all planned.  I’m assuming that by closing night in Adelaide the cast is good enough to hit their marks and know the play, but that’s just it: I’m assuming.  I have no way to know for sure.  And even when you knew it was fake (Goodall is far too good an actor to ask the stage manager for a line!) it was still fun to see a chronicle of the play’s creation.

The true strength of the production, however, wasn’t within this framework of presenting the accidents, but was in the strength of Cameron Goodall as Macbeth and Amber MacMahon as Lady Macbeth.  The two of them beautifully crafted the demise of their characters, and they also managed to craft a relationship between each other as actors, or perhaps as the characters of themselves.   So perhaps here I am going back on myself: it wasn’t the artifice I loved the most, but the true characters created.  But perhaps that’s the point: even with being constantly reminded that this was a play, theatre can still suck me in.

Vs Macbeth was the evening performance on a busy festival day- while I only saw one matinée show, that show was three one-acts, and so Vs Macbeth was the fourth production that day.   It was certainly the bloodiest day I had at the festivals, with three of those shows having fake blood.  And all three shows did something creative with it: Motel used black paint, Through The Leaves used a deep red fake blood soaked sponges (reviews for those shows here) , and Vs Macbeth used yellow paintball guns.   In fact, Vs Macbeth used both the yellow paint and a fake blood – when Goodall chose the wrong dagger to raise to his head, and a red blood dripped down.  This was a very subtle but effective divide between the world of Macbeth itself, and the world of the actors within the production.

Brett Stiller and Takul Saul were just two members of a brilliant ensemble. And that crash test dummy never broke character, even with all the mishaps! Commitment right there.

Although this review has been sitting pathetically half-formed on my USB for about a month and a half now, Vs Macbeth was one of my favourite shows I saw in the Festival season.   It was a fun show to watch, and the capacity audience was truly buzzing, which makes for a fun night out in any case.  I had intended to write reviews for everything I saw in the festival in the couple of weeks after, when all of my volunteer work had finished and I was being unemployed while job hunting.  Something I’d have never guessed was I would start work the Monday after the Festival closed, no time for a break at all!  But now I am going to try and make an effort to catch up.  I guess we’ll see how far I get.