Body in Space @ Arcade Lane – Regent One
11:59pm, Sat 19 Feb 2011
I must have mentioned this a dozen times on this blog so far: I love me some Shakespeare. And, though, I occasionally flitter through favourites, I’ve always had a massive soft-spot for Macbeth – all the grief and angst and human failings just rub me the right way.
So when I saw there was a midnight Macbeth in the broken and rustic Arcade Lane space… well, I was there. I checked with Jack of The Neo to ensure that I wouldn’t offend if I left their gig a touch early, and I booked my ticket. Subsequently, a friend-of-the-family recommended this production to me – “it’s very much you. The performers all have bare feet.”
Arriving in plenty of time – I didn’t want to risk another starting-time kerfuffle – and into the Regent One space. It looks like they’ve installed a square “stage” of floating floorboards there; the six cast members sat in a semi-circle, intensely focussed; together they emit a sparse tune. A drumbeat here, a hum there. The only female member of the cast waits until we’re all seated, then breaks into a mournful wail: it’s wonderfully atmospheric, and when the actors playing the witches spin onto the “stage” from their positions in the semi-circle, their simple robes announce their entrance into the scene with a flourish.
It’s a remarkably sparse production – there’s absolutely no offstage assistance to the players. No lighting tweaks for mood, no music that’s not produced by the players themselves. The actors leave their positions, enter the scene, complete their part, then return to their seats; the scenery and the space exists in the audience’s mind, and they use their multi-use robes to full effect. And the little things – like Lady Macbeth’s invocation of the spirits – are accented with little vocal effects from the group.
Douglas Brooks is a suitably troubled Macbeth, displaying both the noble strength required of the characters initial efforts along with the broken conscience befitting the later parts of the play. Laura Irish is a delightful Lady Macbeth, smiling Nazi and poison tongue and shattered mind; the grey-haired Roger Sanders (most notable as Duncan) trod a fine line between ham and genius. Luke Walton’s simmering Macduff was mesmerising, and Daniel Allan’s Banquo…
Look – let’s just get one thing perfectly clear, here. I loved this production, this midnight Macbeth experience. Not only was it a great version of a great play, but it provided some of the greatest theatrical moments in recent memory. The plotting of Duncan’s downfall leads to vicious and snarling whispers between Macbeth and his wife, beautifully spaced and utterly compelling and you could have heard a pin drop; and the scene where the Ghost of Banquo approaches Macbeth at the feast was simply magnificent – Daniel’s Banquo ever-so-slowly inched forward with an intoxicating mixture of slight smile and ominous shaking head and immense menace, brutalising Macbeth without making contact… absolutely harrowing. But the highlight is undoubtedly the classic “Out, damned spot!” scene with Lady Macbeth: despite the music outside in Arcade Lane thumping away at 2am on a Sunday, everything outside of the stage slipped away – it was the most amazing sense of theatrical tunnel vision I’ve experienced. I could only see the players, I could only hear Laura’s frantic whispers, and see the madness in her face, her eyes… stunning.
And that’s the great thing about this production: it absolutely commanded your attention at all times. Sure, you may know Macbeth pretty well, but the way this Kiwi troupe told the tale you simply could not look away. Absolutely brilliant, and easily – even at this early stage – one of the highlights of the year.