The works of William Shakespeare are well-established cultural touchstones beyond the realm of the audience and performer dynamic but the ensemble of the Come You Spirits Theatre Troupe aim to inject even older traditions into these texts to amplify their resonances on a spiritual, energetic level. In this winter solstice performance of Macbeth, the story is placed in a spooky natural context in an embrace of its basic elements.
With a considerable condensed script and a cast cut down to four central characters, the plot of this Macbeth appeared much more immediate than other adaptations. Macbeth (Charles Mayer) met the Witch (Sontaan Hopson), heard her prophecy, and was quickly spurred into action by Lady Macbeth (Jo Bloom) to dispose of King Duncan. Macduff (Nicholas Gell), introduced through audio recordings of his murdered family (voiced by Mercutio Bloom, Harley Bloom, and Holly Myers), loitered around Macbeth’s moral demise before stepping in to restore order and justice.
At the same time as the script was condensed, the staging was extended to incorporate many areas around the Haven Amphitheatre in Castlecrag. The actors scampered over stone steps, across bridges, through the trees and bushes, and congregated on a small sandy stage for more conventional conversation. As such, the audience was literally immersed in the action as the performance moved around them. This approach to immersive theatre is a cornerstone of Come You Spirits’s theatre-making which additionally incorporates production design into their consideration of energy flows and the audience/performer relation.
For Macbeth, Brandon Read designed a soundscape to be played throughout the performance with ominous humming that increased tension and a drum beat, played by Hopson, that forewarned troubling predictions. The lighting design was simpler with candles and warm outdoor lights to illuminate the bush setting with punctuation from blood red accents that complimented the Macbeths’ red fur costuming. Additionally, a series of large grey panels were dotted around the performance space which the troupe described in an interview as imitating the stones of Stonehenge as sound reflectors. As such, the production design was a mix of conventional aesthetics for Macbeth with a red colour-scheme and the troupe’s interest in immersion through sound and energy flows.
The performances were capable with Mayer, in particular, winning the audience over with his balance of Macbeth’s ambition and his repeated startles. Lady Macbeth was portrayed as more even-keeled by Bloom but with an underlying anger the boiled over in booming monologues that echoed through the bushland. Hopson and Gell, whose performances were largely on the edges of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s action, came into their own as the crown began to crumble near the end of Macbeth’s reign. Hopson’s Witch altered from a sage, solemn figure to an increasingly uneasy and unstable one while Gell’s Macduff grew in confidence alongside his grief and anger.
Performing Shakespeare outdoors is a popular approach to the classics as can be seen in Sport for Jove’s regular summer season productions; for example, their 2020 production of Twelfth Night at Parramatta Park’s Old Government House. Shakespeare’s work lends itself well to outdoor productions as it taps into the essence of the original performances in open-air theatres like the famous Globe Theatre but also it allows for interesting and inventive adaptation of the story to a specific site and environment. For Come You Spirits, this means an embrace of nature which came through particularly well in Macbeth‘s placement in the Haven Amphitheatre. Sitting upon stone stepped seating, amongst the ferns and eucalypts, underneath stars and scurrying possums, there was a renewed energy to the production and its imagery of dark skies, dreary stone castles, and cold Scottish air. At the very least, the juxtaposition of such a familiar story in, for many audience members, a completely new setting with its own rich history of the Cammeraygal people’s custodianship and Walter Burly Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin’s construction of the amphitheatre was novel and exciting.
Macbeth is running at the Haven Amphitheatre from June 21st – 26th
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