They who dared do more

By Narelle Wood

In a year that marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death you can’t go far this season without encountering a performance celebrating or commenting in his life’s work. The Union House Theatre present a mostly traditional retelling of Macbeth juxtaposed with a modern, colonialist version through macdeath: a coda.


Under the artistic direction of Petra Kalive, the traditional section of The Tragedy of Macbeth is performed almost in its entirety, with only small, arguably non-essential lines omitted from the script. The fast pace at which the actors speak means the production has quite a manic pace to it at times and also affords some extra time at the end for the coda. The pacing works, the staging is minimalist so transitions from one scene to another match the speed of the dialogue, with only a few well-crafted pauses along the way. The only downside to this was that sometimes Lady Macbeth’s (Sen Wagaarachchi) lines were delivered with such fervour and haste the character’s linguistic manipulation was lost in a blur of words.

There was some characterisation that didn’t sit well with me. Malcolm (Lachlan Watts) seemed sleazy and entitled; an interpretation of his character that I had not considered before and didn’t particularly like, mostly because there was nothing, even by the character’s own admission, kingly about him. This was not helped by the fact that I found Martin Hoggart’s portrayal of Macbeth to be completely charismatic; for the first time ever I was hoping that things were going to work out for Macbeth, despite his ambitious ways.

Despite my reservations in some of these character interpretations, the acting was great. The Weird Sisters (Bec Riggs, Amy Spurgeon and Liam Bellman Sharpe) epitomised sinister and malevolent, and Georgie Daniels’ (Macduff) was fierce making her character a fair contender for the throne.

The staging (Kalive), lighting (Jacob Trethowan and Brendan McDougall) and soundtrack (Nat Grant and Connor Ross) were genius. The combination of all 3 turned a minimalist black set into something eerie and atmospheric; especially the use of the chairs and sound effects produced by the witches.

Jean Tong’s macdeath: a coda was intriguing but left me feeling a little ambivalent towards what was a very good production. The political message in the coda was poignant and the comparison between Macbeth’s story and more recent historical drew some rather worrying parallels. I couldn’t help but think though that this section deserved to be more than a coda; that either story in its own right deserved to be told and performed in full.

Macbeth + macdeath: a coda is a thought-provoking and intense combination of the traditional and the reinvented Macbeth. It is perhaps not a production for die-hard traditionalists: that been said though, it certainly does raise questions, and propose some answers, about why Shakespeare and The Tragedy of Macbeth is still relevant today.

Venue: Guild Theatre, Union House, University of Melbourne

Season: 16-24 September, 7.30 Wednesday – Saturday, Saturday matinee 3pm

Tickets: $20

Bookings: chook.as/uht/macbeth