Wot! No witches?
Not in this radical production of the Scottish Play. Instead, theyre undercover fifth columnists dressed in army fatigues, doing their best to destroy General Macbeth.
Theres no tartan to be seen, either, for the young actors at GNT2 have moved the action to the battlefields of Iraq, to make their point that Macbeth is not just a history play. Neither is it about how some abstract force that weve labelled EVIL manipulates our lives, for Bryan Nason believes that there is no such thing there are only people doing bad things, and we cannot slough off individual responsibility for our behaviour.
The devil didnt make Macbeth do it, nor did the witches, because Macbeth is responsible for his own actions, as is everyone else in the play, and in this production he cant blame supernatural solicitings for his evil (note that its used as an adjective, not an abstract noun) deeds.
But we think of the supernatural as being at the heart of Macbeth , so if you take it away, what are we left with?
First of all, theres a very nasty war going on, where it seems nobody can be trusted.
Youve got internal bickering, embedded reporters and photographers, and Macbeth and Lady M talking to each other on mobile phones.
You have the same slaughter of the innocents that goes on in any war Lady Macduff and her children are gunned down before our eyes by faceless terrorists and the one good guy in the play, Macduff, is pushed over the edge by this callous destruction. He doesnt quite become a suicide bomber, but when he takes on Macbeth in the final hand-to-hand battle (staged with their usual brilliance by Jamie Stewart and Vanja Matula, who play Macbeth and Macduff respectively), its as much for personal revenge as to further the legitimate claims of Malcolm to be restored to his throne.
Its a very clever concept, which on the whole works very well, but there are some rough patches where the thesis doesnt quite make sense. Ross Lowe plays not only Banquo, but his twin brother (thus explaining the ghostly apparitions) who is also the Macbeth camps resident drag queen and leader of the female Quislings.
The scene where he climbs out of the cauldron to confront Macbeth with the line of Banquos heirs as the future kings is very cute, and helps to explain some of the action in this interpretation, but it seems to me to be stretching the text a little too far. Set a Shakespeare play in whatever situation you like, and it will make sense as long as you remain true to the text, because thats one of the reasons that we keep going to see Shakespeare, because what he says has universal rather than just specific relevance. But if you skew the text, you change the play, which I dont think is legitimate, even if it does give it a different kind of cutting edge. BR>
I was also puzzled about why Lady Macduff and her children were dressed as Muslims, especially when Macduff himself remained resolutely Western. Transporting the action from Scotland to Iraq was a clever idea, but the analogy has to be worked out better than this was, because of the Scottish and English references that are so prominent in the text.
But it was an excellent try, and in its latest transformation, which has seen Grin & Tonic founder Bryan Nason taking a back seat and letting the actors take over, GNT2 is continuing his tradition of bringing the classics alive for modern audiences. There are some excellent actors in the troupe stalwarts Jamie Stewart and Vanja Matula are a formidable match in their physical and intellectual command of the text, and Errol ONeill shows us that, among all his other talents, he is a fine Shakespearian actor as well. (He alternates with Paul Sherman in the role.)
Margie Brown-Ash is irresistible as the camp cook/conspirator, and there are a number of other fine cameos, but overall the acting is patchy, although this is excusable when you learn that there are a number of work experience and tertiary secondments in the cast.
G&T (or, as we must now call them, GNT2) do such fine work in bringing Shakespeare to a wide audience that they can be forgiven many things. They prove that live theatre is still relevant and exciting, and that theres a lot more to it than devoutly respectful productions or splashy musicals.
And they still do it on a shoe string, neither asking for nor receiving any government support. The sets for this production cost $75, the lighting all came from underneath Bryan Nasons house, and the costumes are left over from the old G&T days.
Whatever your reactions to this production, youll see Macbeth with new eyes, and that can only be a good thing. You sit outside under the balmy Brisbane skies, and as ticket prices start at a low $16.50, you can munch on pizza and BYO drinks, and its all over by 8pm, it makes for a great family night out.
Even tough teenagers will get something out of it all those army fatigues AND a drag queen
A collaborative work from GNT2
Playing until 14 April, every night except Mondays and Tuesdays, at 7pm
Running time: 90 minutes no interval