Remounted after a run at PACT in June of this year, Ninefold brings its reimagination of Macbeth back to the stage with a stronger design, clearer motivations, but the same spooky atmosphere.
Using the Suzuki method for this production, a style of training and performance that centres the body, director Shy Magsalin challenges her actors to “fill container with content” or to bring the meaning to the movement. There is a lot of movement work in this production in choreographed dance sequences, ritualised movements to symbolise a sense of group denial, and eerie unnatural configurations of the witches. Often these sequences are powerful in the feeling they create but, at the same times, the choreography is often used to transition between the chopped up text as replacement for the character development, dialogue, nuances and details of plot that would have been there in the original. While this performance technique is beautiful to watch and precisely executed, elongated pauses and slow pacing felt like interruptions more than explorations at times.
This is a retelling that chooses to focus on the supernatural aspects of the Scottish play and rewrites Macbeth (Victoria Greiner) as a young woman trapped in a blood pact with the wyrd sisters (Erica J Brennan, Aslam Abdus-Samad, Paul Musumeci). Shakespeare’s original play is chopped up and redistributed for the seven ensemble members to find something else in the text and subtext. It’s a method that relies very heavily on the connotations and receptions of the original play and doesn’t necessarily come into its own. The ensemble’s relationship with the source text hollows out the humanity of frailty by removing the complications of fear, ambition, and stupidity. Without this underlying interest in human emotion, the moments of vulnerability from Greiner’s Macbeth, when she shakes across the stage or co-opts Lady Macbeth’s grief, are unconvincing. However, Wyrd shines when one stops trying to find the source text in the performance and accepts the production as a new piece of work interested in blood and horror.
With lighting techniques straight out of a classic horror film like strobes and flashlight spots and a soundscape that maximises creaking and scratchings more than the ubiquitous drone, Wyrd becomes an atmospheric experience rather than a narrative. The use of natural sounds in the ensemble’s movements like stepping and sliding or more animalistic tongue-clicking and hissing blur distinctions between the human and animal worlds in a gothic iteration of the pathetic fallacy.
Other aspects that strengthened this rendition over the June debut were the clarity of the witches’ motivations. Their meddling with Macbeth’s affairs comes from a prophecy bigger than the people involved and is solidified in a blood pact between Brennan’s witch and Greiner’s Macbeth. Reframing Gideon Payten-Griffiths’s transformation as a sort of sacrifice or séance scene was a powerful way to step deeper into the supernatural elements of the story of Macbeth. Similarly, the use of circle symbolism in the shape of the set and keeping all actors within the action of the circle gives an overall coven-esque ritualistic quality to the performance that is unsettling in subtle ways.
The meeting of method and material in Wyrd demonstrates Ninefold’s interest in finding experimental and challenging ways to question familiar settings and stories for contemporary audiences. This rendition of their Suzuki Macbeth is a commendable step towards establishing themselves as a company looking to change Australian theatre.