Ninefold reworks Macbeth as a quick supernatural thriller about the dark motivations of ambition and control. Director, Shy Magsalin, integrates the Suzuki Method of Actor Training in a physically and stylistically challenging staging of this wyrd story. Wyrd: the Season of the Witch is Shakespeare shifted and reimagined in a way you haven’t seen before.
The supernatural, witchy, weird, and folksy aspect of Macbeth are so often overlooked in contemporary productions, instead choosing to focus on the psychological, but Ninefold have chosen to recentre the Wyrd Sisters and run with the strangeness underneath Macbeth’s rise to power. Even with an ensemble, the cast is collapsed into key human and inhuman characters with a script that has been chopped, changed, and rearranged into a more compact retelling of events. The edited script draws heavily upon well-known monologues and dining scenes to carry the weight of the narrative and sign-post the relevant action for the audience, but, unless you’re already well-versed in the story of Macbeth, this new narrative doesn’t hold its own. This isn’t to say that rewriting Shakespeare isn’t inventive or imaginative, only that one must consider who the production is for. As a reimagining of a classic text for a contemporary audience perhaps unfamiliar with canonical stories, Wyrd is confusing as it lacks a substantial narrative, but if this is just another Shakespeare for Shakespeare’s sake, then why do it at all?
Gender-bending, gender-blind casting, and gender-swapping are common attempts to combat Shakespeare’s penchant for writing women few and far between but merely changing the gender of a character or actor is not enough if it does not take into account the power and gender dynamics of the text. Lady Macbeth is easily one of the most interesting and powerful of Shakespeare’s women and her motivations and manipulations of her husband form the acute moral centre of Macbeth as a whole. To collapse Lady Macbeth into Macbeth in order to make Macbeth a Queen is a travesty to the dynamics and tension of the text. To then set a female Macbeth against a trio of sisters, two of which are played by men, and Hecate, also played by a man, demonstrates a failure to truly engage with the play’s relationship between power and gender. Especially when the reworking of the script aims to centre the witches, by casting the majority of them as men you seriously undermine, or overlook, the cultural and historical significance of witches as women.
Additionally, removing Lady Macbeth from the text leaves a very clear gap in the narrative as to Macbeth’s motivations for killing King Duncan and fulfilling the Wyrd Sisters’ prophecy. The attempt to replace this with the witches’ and Hecate’s whimsical desire for destruction is a weak alternative. Without Lady Macbeth’s ambition and manipulation, and Macbeth’s arrogance, the momentum of action is lost and the narrative becomes hollow and unbelievable. There is much to be gained in critically evaluating and reimagining Shakespeare’s work with a contemporary concern, but when your retelling requires so much adjustment as to lose the essence of the original piece, perhaps it would be better to reach for a new work.
Suzuki is an unfamiliar style on the Sydney stage and its use in this production allowed for moments of true beauty. The choreography was surprising and smooth in its execution. Lighting designer, Liam O’Keefe, and sound designer, Melanie Herbert, did a sound job of emphasising the movement on stage and shifting between the light-hearted tension of the parties and sinister sleep terrors. Some choices slipped through the cracks and didn’t reach their potential such as the ubiquitous drone and “strobe”. When the lighting, sound, and choreography came together, though, the staging was beautiful and unique. For example, following (Lady) Macbeth through her sleep-walking monologue with a flashlight and hidden whisperings was very well done and captured the voyeuristic unease of that scene. The use of natural sound with clicks, stomps, and shoe scrapes worked very well in harmony with the metallic creaking of many non-diegetic sound clips. Where the staging let the production down was the occasional over-reliance of repetitive movements and images and areas of inadequate pacing. Overall, this heavily stylised production is unusual for the Sydney stage and adds flashy interest to an industry that loves naturalism.
Ninefold have attempted to push Macbeth to its limits and then bring is all back to a compressed, energetic, and spooky centre. At the very least, this isn’t the story you know.
Wyrd: the Season of the Witch is playing at PACT from June 21st – 30th.