‘Macbeth’, the infamous Scottish play by William Shakespeare, loosely based on the real Scottish King of a thousand years ago.

This fabulous dramatic treat was a GRADS production at the Dolphin Theatre, within the University of WA. The 150-minute shows ran at 8.00 pm for three evenings, until 9th June, with one matinée on the Saturday afternoon at 2.00 pm. I saw the Saturday evening show, and despite the tiring afternoon matinée, the cast were fully charged and gave it their all. Marketing and production was by Fiona Johnson.

The scene: Northern Scotland 1040. The scenery was minimal, with most scenes being simply black drapes in the wings, and a black rear stage wall. The set designer was Gary Wetherilt, who was aided in construction by Gary Green, did however have many props to create ranging from two thrones, a handcart, and a 5-metre banqueting table. The vast number of properties – swords, dagger, oil lamps, crowns etc. – were sourced by Pamela Smith Properties and her assistant, Amanda Baker.

The general technical advisor was Daniel Dyer-Smith. The lighting design by Keith Martin showed a great deal of talent and experience. The lighting intensity, angles, colours and moods were all meticulously presented. The sound operator was Valentine Alexander, who provided realistic, crisp sound effects.

The production manager (Neale Paterson) and the hardworking team of stage manager Gary Wetherilt gave us a slick production, with the set changes being almost imperceptibly carried out by the cast.

       The play opens mid battle, with the loyalists to the Scottish Crown, Macbeth, Banquo, Caithness (Pete Nettleton) and Angus (Shivas Lindsay) all fighting Ireland and Norway. Norway is led by the traitorous Macdonwald, the ‘Thane of Cawdor’.
       The cackling Three Witches (Grace Edwards, Sylvia Cornes, Anka Cikic) arrive with a handcart and whisk away the dead soldiers’ bodies to their lair. Amidst thunder and lightning, the Three Witches meet with Macbeth (Stephen Lee, outstanding) and inform him he will become ‘Thane of Glamis’. ‘Thane of Cawdor’ and ‘King hereafter’. Macbeth – the King’s kinsman – is praised for his bravery and fighting prowess, but the bravery of his best friend, Banquo (Michael Balmer, very good) is treated poorly by the witches.
       Duncan dies in the battle and so Queen Duncan (Sue Lynch) passes her husband’s status to their son Malcolm (David Cotgreave). Scotland Ross (Leigh Fitzpatrick) arrives and informs Macbeth of his newly bestowed title ‘Thane of Cawdor’. With the first prophecy now fulfilled, Macbeth, begins to believe he really will become king.
       Young King Duncan spends the night at Macbeth’s castle where Lady ‘Gruoch’ Macbeth (Jenny Howard, wonderful) awaits her husband’s homecoming. Lady Macbeth is excited about the prospect of being queen, and demands Macbeth to murder.
     While Duncan sleeps, Macbeth stabs him, but is so shaken that Lady Macbeth takes charge, and frames Duncan’s servants. Next morning, a Scottish nobleman, Lennox (Neale Paterson) and the loyal Thane of Fife, Macduff (Jeff Watkins) arrive. A porter (Kristine Lockwood) opens the gate, and in the king’s chamber, Macduff discovers Duncan’s body. Duncan’s sons, Malcolm and Donalbain (Declan Waters) flee to England and Ireland, fearing that whoever killed their father will kill them. When Macbeth becomes King, the sons now guess who killed their father.
     Macbeth now invites Banquo and his young son, Fleance (Felix Malcolm) to a royal banquet. Banquo also suspects Macbeth of Duncan’s murder, so intends leaving that night, but Macbeth hires two men (Eddie Stowers, Davis McCann) to kill them. The assassins kill Banquo, but his son Fleance escapes.
     The banquet goes ahead and Banquo’s ghost enters then sits in Macbeth’s place. Macbeth goes berserk at the sight of Banquo’s ghost and so Lady Macbeth asks the lords to leave.
       Searching for advice, Macbeth visits the three witches. They summon horrible apparitions; firstly, from their cauldron they conjure an armoured head (Hannah Gibson), which warns beware of Macduff. The second, a bloody child (Neve Havercroft) tells him ‘no one born of a woman shall be able to harm him’. Macbeth now feels secure. When Lennox tells Macbeth that Macduff has fled to England, Macbeth orders Macduff’s castle be seized, and that Macduff, Lady Macduff (Sally Barendse) and their son (Isaac McCann) should be slain. Everyone in is put to death.
     Racked with guilt, Lady Macbeth consults a doctor (Tim Prosser), who along with a gentlewoman (Connie Wetherilt) discusses Lady Macbeth’s habit of sleepwalking. They watch as Lady Macbeth tries to wash off her victims’ imaginary bloodstains.
     Prince Malcolm, learns about the slaughter from an old messenger woman (Rosemary Longhurst), and so looking for revenge, raises an army in England and with Macduff rides to Scotland. They are joined by Englishmen, Siward the Elder (Garry T. Saunders) and the Earl of Northumberland.
   Is Macbeth as invincible as he thinks?

Having seen Macbeth a dozen times, I was not too enamoured at the thought of seeing it again. However, on hearing from several theatregoers how exceptional this production was, and that Grant Malcolm – a highly experienced actor – was director and had selected a magnificent cast, with a cast list reading like a ‘Who is Who’ in WA acting, how could I resist?

The first thing that the audience will have noted is that all of the actors had a thorough knowledge of the intricacies of the script, a clear understanding of the language and the careful pace that is required to allow the audience absorb the richness of the Shakespearean dialogue. On the topic of the dialogue, the hoary old arguments arose as to the pronunciation of several words. ‘Glamis’ is certainly pronounced Glamz – the castle being the birthplace of Princess Margaret and childhood home of her mother (the Queen Mother). Then Cawdor (kaddo), Hecate (heck a tee) and Scone (skoon) all have debateable pronunciations. It is argued that over 1,000 years these words will have changed, or perhaps that Shakespeare modified them to meet his line scans. Then there is ‘upon the heath’, should it have been spoken as ‘heth’ to match Macbeth? The much admired Stephen Lee, leading the assault as Macbeth in this dark and vicious version, chose the older, traditional way of saying these words – leaving the Scots in the audience to cringe. Who is correct?

The director employed the theatre’s box seats – just off the apron as different Scottish venues. This helped keep the play’s action moving along.

Costume designer Merri Ford has dressed the soldiers and peasants in almost plain sackcloth outfits, with adornments that were in the colours produced by the local heather and bracken, which were used for dyes in those days. Accurately, virtually no tartan was to be seen, as it was almost unknown before 1750. The rugged vestments and helmets for the soldiers were most authentic – many congratulations. Although I did spot a soccer shin guard being used as a vambrace.

The combats included full sized, heavy weight swords, daggers and fist fights all of which were convincingly directed by Lawrence Hassell, and performed with horrifying conviction. Makeup artist, Yvette Drager-Wetherilt then gave us gallons of realistic blood.

Composer Myles Wright’s soundscape provided just the right balance of drama and soft atmosphere. The choreographer, Seanne Sparrow gave us a couple of dances and plenty of movement. The large cast required careful management as they entered and exited, often carrying props. Very slick.

The director managed to exert tight control over the cast, stopping them from being ‘over the top’. In high, action-packed drama, it is very easy for the actors to overstate the situation, and thus present a hammy performance and atmosphere. Many of the scenes actually gave the audience a real chill with the acting.

The enunciation was clear. The occasional Scottish accent was quite accurate. The youngsters were superb.

The porter was included in the script by Shakespeare to give a light-hearted break from the violence, and yet this servant is invariably portrayed as an angry, drunken obnoxious being. In this production the porter’s rollicking, hilarious performance was perfect – congrats to Kris.

Then there was the banqueting scene! Wow. Edward Albee is famous for wrecking the set, but when Macbeth grabbed the massive table – laden with delicacies – and scattered the lot, Albee would have been proud. This action was so unexpected and yet truly appropriate; a brilliant action.

Every single technician and actor should be most proud of this production. Very glad that I caught it.