If having Jai Courtney in the title role wasn’t enough to draw theatregoers in, let it be known that this modern-day reimagining of Shakespeare‘s Macbeth is like watching a Hollywood blockbuster come to life on stage. Right from the get-go, it’s as if we are immersed into the world of Mad Max with its rough guts and foul play. It’s refreshing to see a new spin on one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, and under the direction of Simon Phillips, the cast have managed to sink their teeth into and execute these infamous characters.
Leading the pack is Courtney as Macbeth. When a name as big as this comes home to portray one of the most complex characters, expectations are high. Courtney was every bit the tragic villain and showed the degradation of a once respected countryman. It became incredibly clear as to why Courtney has achieved such a high level of career success in recent years; he has a strong presence that in ways is disarming, but also a vulnerability to open the wounds of the characters he plays. He was a true leader amongst the cast not only as Macbeth, but as an actor.
The 13 strong cast as a whole were outstanding. Some played multiple characters and while it did get a bit confusing at times (because Shakespeare can have that effect on you!) it didn’t ruin the experience. That is was this play is all about though – it is an experience. Technically, it was a resounding success with costuming, lighting, staging, soundtrack and set design each holding meaningful value to the context of the play. Having the stage operate like a Lazy Susan meant there was a flow between scenes that you wouldn’t have otherwise had. It also added another dimension to the way scenes were interwoven; a prize directorial choice I respected from Phillips.
Macbeth covers themes and issues that are still somewhat scarily relevant today, and to have it translated to a modern-day setting and audience was rather chilling. The scenes of warfare and violence, both in the home and in battle, depicted the true nature of these characters. While the stage combat was powerful and intense, at times you could see the choreography. These scenes were physically demanding and at the peak of the play so seeing those few holes did create a bit of a disconnect, but it was minimal in the whole scheme of things.
I read and studied Macbeth back when I was in high school, but this was the first time seeing it live. This was one of my favourite texts to study but given it was so long ago, I had forgotten some of the most iconic scenes from it. The dinner table scene where Macbeth sees Banquo’s apparition was nothing short of amazing. By this point, Macbeth is completely losing his cool in front of notable colleagues, but his subconscious is in full swing. The fact that Macbeth knew all along that what he was doing was wrong is crucial in understanding his downfall, and this scene showed just how riddled with guilt he was. The toiling three witches were also a highlight. They were street rats channeling their inner conspirators with quick, accurate and menacing dialogue; just how it ought to be.
This one act version of Macbeth will surpass every expectation you have about mastering Shakespeare’s work. Phillips has directed a classic for the 21st century, and I’d like to see more tales such as this be given new life. This is a must-see for an education not only in understanding the importance of Shakespeare’s work, but also in storytelling.
MTC’s Macbeth is showing at the Southbank Theatre until July 15th. Tickets are selling fast so be sure to get yours quick smart. For tickets and more info, head here.
The reviewer attended the show on Tuesday June 13th. Photos: Jeff Busby.