Things to do in Melbourne: dinner and Macbeth

Last night, there was steak, seafood and Macbeth. It’s a winning combination, even if the play wasn’t quite as noms as the dinner.

Il Primo Posto is at Melbourne’s Southbank. It’s a welcoming space, unlike many of the corporate aquariums that line the river walk, given warmth and character by its mural wall, wooden shelves and dashing burgundy feature wall. The staff are efficient and friendly, and the food — the food is spot on in size, quality and price.

We got to the Arts Centre with the bell — not just the theatre bell calling us to our seats, but the Bell Shakespeare Company, performing my favourite work by the Bard, Macbeth.

The stage was set with turf and grass, suitably crunchy for adding to suspenseful creeping scenes, and a key feature was a reflective ceiling — it had a more dramatic effect farther back, I think, based on what I saw at intermission. Lighting was superb.

Among the highlights: Lady Macbeth, played by Kate Mulvany, and the beautifully balanced and passionate relationship with Macbeth; the sensation of spirit possession in the cleverly singular witch, Lizzie Schebesta; Macduff’s emotional speech on reception of news of his family’s death; the way in which dead Banquo exits the stage as the dinner scene is set up around him; the sex/violence dynamic between Macbeth and the witch. Great fake blood, too!

Some of the things that didn’t work quite so well for me: the truncated, even jumpy, second half, especially the absence of the scene explaining how it is that the woods can march; slow motion while actors deliver soliloquies; the confusion about whether the witch is still the witch when playing minor characters. Why keep Macduff’s family’s death scene but deny Lady Macbeth her post-dinner ramble?


One striking aspect of the play was the unexpected humour. There was an ironic, even Ocker, vein that elicited laughs in places one wouldn’t normally expect, while the one character often played for laughs — the gatekeeper — presented in part as quite dour. Lady Macbeth suffers a bout of hiccups, highly effective at beginning and end, but a tad disruptive in the midst of a heavy emotional monologue. And Macbeth himself, looking impish with a constant crouch and hunch and arms akimbo, at times more Rumpelstiltskin than tortured king, giving air to that jarring Aussie twang once in a while. The costumery was understated Australian, too, with the men’s uniforms of jeans and work shirts topped occasionally by formal blue military coats, and woollen jumpers to the fore.

This is another version that seems to put more weight on the role of the witch/es not just as oracles of fate but manipulators or even victims of it. I’m not convinced that reframing is required, given the sheer power of the tale about self-fulfilling prophecy.

It was a bold, even challenging production, and overall I enjoyed it, not just for what it did so very well — some wonderful scenes will linger for a long time indeed — but for what it dared to do. And kudos for programming Fever Ray for the departure song: a perfect beat to leave on after such a striking final moment.

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