Adelaide Fringe 2011
A Shakespearean revenge play about a Scottish nobleman whose greed and ambition send him into a downward spiral of violence, guilt and paranoia. Body in Space present a gritty and intimate yet gripping and accessible version of it, enjoyable even by those unfamiliar with Shakespeare’s work.
Most people reading this will be familiar with the story. For those who aren’t, however, here’s a brief rundown: Macbeth, Thane of Glamis, encounters three witches upon a lonely heath one night, who hail Macbeth not only by his title, but as ‘Macbeth, Thane of Cawdor’ and ‘Macbeth, who shalt be king hereafter.’ Initially dismissive of these proclamations, Macbeth later discovers that the Thane of Cawdor has in fact been defeated in an uprising against King Duncan, and that Duncan has subsequently transferred all of Cawdor’s lands and titles to his favourite general, Macbeth. This causes Macbeth to get certain crown-seizing ideas into his head, and at the urging of his wife, he kills Duncan and takes the throne for himself. Soon, however, Macbeth discovers the high price to be paid for his deceit, and spends the rest of the play attempting to deal with the guilt and insecurity he feels at his own treachery.
The whole production has a very gritty, edgy feel to it. The venue – Regent One in Arcade Lane, a.k.a. the gutted-out remains of the old Hoyts Regent – is classic Fringe: fold-out chairs, peeling wallpaper interspersed with bare bricks, etc. The stage is essentially a plank of wood (a big, square, highly polished one, fair enough, but nonetheless a plank of wood) at the front of the ex-cinema, around which the actors sit when they’re not standing on it performing. Needless to say, this is no Royal Shakespeare Company production, and traditionalists may not be able to respect that. The show does, however, have a level of intimacy that the RSC couldn’t possibly match. The actors aren’t dots on a distant stage, but real people standing right in front of you. This has a powerful impact during emotionally-charged moments in the play; the murder of the Macduffs, for instance, is all the more alarming because it happens right in front of you (although it certainly helps that Laura Irish is brilliantly convincing at conveying pain and distress as Lady Macduff.)
The cast of actors all play a handful of characters each, with the exception of Douglas Brooks (Macbeth.) Due to the bare-bones nature of the show, many of them also occasionally perform as stage props, which sometimes distracts from the performance. The sight of three people grouping together to form a door, for instance, drew a few muted chuckles from the audience at an ill-timed moment. There is, however, no doubting the players’ acting abilities. Roger Sanders achieves the remarkable feat of making the Porter’s outdated jokes halfway funny, while Brooks and Irish give fiery performances as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Incidentally, it would have been emotionally satisfying to see these two actors make something of the chemistry their characters generated; a decent snog would have done it, while the occasional partially-obscured fake-kiss (if that’s what those were) didn’t really cut it.
Nevertheless, Body in Space’s Macbeth is powerful, haunting, and has little trouble overcoming the antiquated language to express itself clearly and forcefully (possibly the greatest indicator of a successful Shakespeare production.) An excellent interpretation of a classic, for seasoned Shakespeare veterans and fresh-faced newcomers alike.