Theatre review: Macbeth, Mandurah Performing Arts Centre, WA

So foul and fair a play I have not seen.

Adapted by Georgia Turner, Stray Cats Theatre Company’s production of Macbeth opened with an epic battle intruded upon by a trio of prophetic witches. These weird sisters (Rhiannon Francis, Teaghan Lowry and Tara Elliott) told a triumphant Macbeth (Alex White) that he would soon be king, setting in motion a chain of events that would transform heroic morality to villainous betrayal, with murder as both means and end. 

Creeping, broken-necked movements and gothic dress marked this modernised take on Shakespeare’s witches. Their riddle-steeped conversations consistently functioned as conduits of Macbeth’s internal conflict, in addition to pulling heavy plot-weight as catalysts for action. The ambiguity of the witches’ existence as either concrete catalysts of tragedy, figurative foreseers of fate, or a combination of both (a dagger of the mind?) was dealt with beautifully under the confident direction of Karen Francis. 

In this production Lady Macbeth (Meg Willis) urged her husband to kill King Duncan in order to take the throne, inspired by the talk of the aforementioned witches.

Mediaeval music and drunken pageantry greeted King Duncan (Lachlan McNeil) when he arrived at Inverness. Macbeth, however, excluded himself from the revelry, for fear his face would betray a heinous plan… It seems reductive to avoid spoilers for a 400-year-old play; however, to reveal too much of the plot would be worse, regardless of whether or not it may be considered common knowledge by this point. 

Throughout the production, Macbeth wrestled wretchedly with his fears, gradually being driven insane by the ever-increasing blood on his hands. Paying for dark prophecies enacted, his monologues became the plea bargaining of a desperate man, emotionally executed in abridged Shakespearean prose.

This adaptation was fairly accessible to audiences not intimately acquainted with Shakespeare, without compromising on its faithful execution. 

Alex White was impressive as Macbeth, perfectly portraying the emotional and dramatic aspects of the titular character. His love for King Duncan was in clear conflict with his ambition and desire, drawn forth at the urging of his wife, Lady Macbeth, powerfully played by Meg Willis. The unbroken tension between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth spoke to the talent of the actors, who excelled in their challenging roles. Willis embodied the fearsome elements of Lady Macbeth without ostracising her from the audience’s potential empathy, whereas White traversed the steep ground between hero and villain with anguished energy and effortless presence.

Every performance was mesmerising. The high-calibre cast made for a spell-binding experience, with particularly strong work from Andy Vernie as Macduff, Jessica Nanai as Lady Macduff, Lachlan McNeil as King Duncan, Aidan Thomas as Ross and Mitch Vickers as Young Siward. Tense emotions escalated in the face-off between Macbeth and Macduff, showcasing the desperation of both characters, and the skill of the cast. 

There were moments of humour juxtaposed between bloodshed and betrayal, such as the playful sibling dynamic between Ross and Lady Macduff (making one infamous death scene all the sadder) and the drunken porter (Jake Gardner), who directly addressed the audience to fantastic comedic effect. And Rhiannon Francis, Teaghan Lowry and Tara Elliott were uncannily captivating as the weird sisters. The sword fights were well-choreographed, as were several dances and the general movements of actors inhabiting the play’s well-populated scenes.

Shades of red featured prominently and consistently, with crimson light and creeping fog announcing the arrival of the weird sisters, the death of a king and several other important scenes. One of Lady Macbeth’s gowns, the jewels in her crown, and Macbeth’s own cape at one point were all red. In contrast, Lady Macbeth was dressed in pure white directly after a murderous act, as if to advertise her innocence. The costumes intentionally merged modern materials with mediaeval cuts, accessories and styles, creating an edgy Neo-Renaissance aesthetic. 

The overall set design was versatile and atmospheric, complete with stone façades and multi-level platforms. One moment a battlefield, the next a hall, the stage dressing was communicated visually through the placement and absence of sigils, and clever use of props. The lighting and sound design seemed like seamless extensions of the visual environment. And yet, this production didn’t rely too heavily on any one aspect; the strength of the show was maintained by every element being equally outstanding – from the actors’ performances to the ominous score, subtle sound effects and artful lighting. 

The dramatic intensity of this hypnotic, well-fleshed-out world extended beyond the stage into the minds of its captivated audience. Karen Francis’ directorial prowess was apparent from the outset, remaining strong throughout the entirety of the play. Notoriously difficult, Macbeth is not a play to be trifled with. However, Stray Cats Theatre Company has succeeded in bringing figurative light to one of Shakespeare’s darkest tales. 

Stylistically impressive and heavy with portent, this ominous exploration of ambition dealt in shades of love and revenge, friendship and betrayal, paranoia and hope. The question of determinism versus free will was subtly wedged between revelations regarding choice, consequence, mental health, morality, futility and finitude – all expertly expressed. 

Read: Book review: Exquisite Corpse, Marija Peričić

This production of Macbeth probably resonated most with those whose imaginary spectres have already become real, as well as those whose prophecies have yet to be fulfilled. The only real shame is that the season wasn’t longer. 

Stray Cats Theatre Company
Mandurah Performing Arts Centre, WA
Director: Karen Francis
Choreographer: Rhiannon Francis
Stage Manager: Bailey Bridgeman-Peters
Set Design: Bronwyn White and Karen Francis
Lighting and Sound: Karen Francis, Justin Crossley, Asha Perry
Cast: Alex White, Meg Willis, Rhiannon Francis, Teaghan Lowry, Tara Elliott, Andy Vernie, Jessica Nanai 

Macbeth was performed from 19 July- 23 July 2023

Nanci Nott is a nerdy creative with particular passions for philosophy and the arts. She has completed a BA in Philosophy, and postgraduate studies in digital and social media. Nanci is currently undertaking an MA in Creative Writing, and is working on a variety of projects ranging from novels to video games. Nanci loves reviewing books, exhibitions, and performances for ArtsHub, and is creative director at Defy Reality Entertainment.