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POSTED: 29 MARCH 2010

Vs Macbeth, by (mostly) William Shakespeare

Sydney Theatre Company The Residents & The Border Project | Wharf 2, Walsh Bay, Sydney | Until 03 April

The theatre is chock full of superstition. A bad dress rehearsal means a good opening night. Don’t wish an actor good luck. Don’t mention Macbeth inside a theatre. Refer to it only as “The Scottish Play” or “The Bard’s Play”.

There are a variety of myths that have grown around Macbeth ... Shakespeare’s “cursed” play. These range from Shakespeare apparently offending a real coven of witches, to him “cursing’ it so that no one else could direct it.

So, is STC’s permanent ensemble, The Residents, pushing their luck by not only facing the “curse”, but also spitting in its eye? Combining with Adelaide’s The Border Project, this brave young troupe has included rehearsal errors, actual historical staging disasters, and a mass of potential cockups — what could possibly go wrong with paintball guns?! — to their retelling of “Shakespeare’s most dangerous tragedy”.

In the midst of the drama, a lighting rig tumbles down. A fire breaks out. Macbeth (Cameron Goodall) slips on the stage and utters a choice expletive or two. As Macbeth and Macduff (Tahki Saul) tussle, Saul backs into the lighting rig. Goodall: “Are you alright?” Saul: “Dude, it’s a pole!”

It’s certainly a unique take on the staging of such a well known production, and most of the time it works pretty well. I did find myself becoming distracted waiting for the next mishap, which took me out of the story itself. However, this is a hugely talented troupe and their energy and commitment keeps the essence of the story intact.

Goodall’s performance is especially compelling. His initial appearance gives little indication of the power and capacity of this actor, but later scenes confirm director Sam Haren’s wisdom in casting.

The breakneck speed of the production is by turns exhilarating and confounding. Performed at a frenetic pace, Shakespeare’s words are sometimes rushed, affecting the sense and significance of the dialogue. At other times, its momentum sweeps the audience along for a wild ride.

The display of problems associated with the play, located around the entrance to the theatre, is well worth a look. Whether you trust in the “curse” or not, there certainly seem to be a large number of reported mishaps.

I do wonder whether other well known and often-performed plays might also have a list of disasters not remembered simply because the play does not have the reputation of Macbeth. But like urban myths, half the fun is in the believing.

Still, if I were a member of this ensemble, I’d be breathing a sigh of relief on the final night if cast and crew have remained intact.

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