The beauty of Shakespeare’s plays lies in their flexibility and creative potential. Written over four hundred years ago, the Bard’s thirty-seven comedies and tragedies have inspired film, theatre, musicals, television and more. It is remarkable to consider the infinite directorial possibilities that these plays hold. This week in Sydney alone, two different theatre companies stage two very different versions of the great tragedy of Macbeth.
This month at the Entertainment Quarter, you could see Shakespeare’s Macbeth performed in a working replica of the Globe Theatre with Pop-up Globe, fit with traditional costumes and staging. Or, for those with more adventurous tastes, you can venture across Sydney to the PACT performing arts space in Erskinville, to see Shakespeare’s tragedy reimagined in a bold new version by all-female theatre company SheShakespeare.
SheShakespeare, which was founded in 2017 with their production of As You Like It, describes themselves as “A community of women who want to explore their creativity and produce opportunities for women in the performing arts with a mix of femininity & ferocity”. It’s this combination of “femininity and ferocity” which plays out in extraordinary ways in their latest production of Macbeth. With a sophisticated mix of softness and fierceness, this talented female ensemble brings to life the tragic tale of a power-hungry Scottish General who murders his way to rule.
The ensemble is universally excellent, with every woman thriving in their role be it lead or supporting. Beth McMullen and Emily McKnight are a dynamic due as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth; They have incredible chemistry, and immediately imbue their characters with a sense of history and closeness. Another standout is Erica Lovell, who brings a devastating fierceness to the tragic hero of Macduff. When Lovell is on stage you simply cannot look away.
Director Shelley Casey embraces the considerable vocal talents of her ensemble in a production which thrives on musicality. All throughout the play, the euphony of singing female voices with a soft acoustic guitar backing fill the stage. This musical decision is, for the most part, very successful; It adds a tenderness to certain emotional moments, and a haunting quality to others. One such haunting moment is when Macbeth (McMullen) in her descent into madness, delivers a powerful and poignant rendition of ‘Wrecking Ball’.
The only moments when these musical accompaniments fall flat are the fight scenes, where the vicious intensity of battle is jarringly juxtaposed with the gentle female vocalists, detracting from the power of the violence.
In this production of Macbeth, director Shelley Casey delivers a poignant, gripping and thought-provoking night at the theatre. In adapting the text to accommodate an all-female cast, Casey provokes fascinating ideas about masculinity and femininity, and the relationship between gender, ambition and violence. The strength of the ensemble, and the bold and unique directorial vision make this impressive production is a must see. I can’t wait to see what SheShakespeare does next.