Macbeth. By William Shakespeare. Directed by Jordan Best. Canberra Repertory Society. Theatre 3, Ellery Circuit, Acton. Until August 20. Bookings 6257 1950 or canberrarep.org.au.
It has been some decades since Canberra Repertory Society last attempted Macbeth. But Jordan Best's direction ensures a clear-eyed view of the piece. It's a powerful thing to see the full width of Theatre 3's playing area taken advantage of and costume and setting stripped back to no more than suggestions of antiquity.
Chris Zuber and Jenna Roberts as the central couple lead the company most capably. They are a young Macbeth and Lady Macbeth but already beset with restlessness and ambition. The witches' prophecies simply fuel what is already there.
There could be more made of Macbeth's inner turmoil in Zuber's performance but he has presence and a sense of the consequences of his actions. It is a telling moment when this Macbeth says, "We will proceed no further in this business" only to give in to his wife's scorn almost fatalistically.
Roberts' Lady Macbeth has no living children and her focus is on her husband and his ambitions, however wavering. Roberts' performance has a clarity that makes it clear she cannot see anything beyond the act of murder except that Macbeth will gain the power and position the witches seem to promise.
Her death in this production loses the ambiguity it has in the script but that choice serves to add a sinister edge to David Bennett's Doctor and the tensions between this and the honesty of the Gentlewoman (Alex McPherson) in the sleepwalking scene are unusually sharp.
The witches are a little too vocally prosaic for my liking but their hooded figures behind the long black scrim that divides the front from the back of the stage are disturbingly sinister. Blink and you'll miss them disappearing due to a neat bit of theatrical magic.
But the true magic in this show is the assembling of a large cast with experienced players generously taking on more minor roles than usual, with doubling abounding; everyone seems to get a branch of Birnam Wood. Jim Adamik's arrival as a demented Harry Lauder of a Porter is kind of expected but Bennett's Doctor is a surprise as is Sam Hannan-Morrow's younger than usual King Duncan, Tim Sekuless as a Lennox of some warmth and Tony Falla as a Banquo of substance, living or ghost.
And after the deaths of Michelle Lea Cooper's beautifully outspoken Lady Macduff and her children it is the scene where Macduff (Cameron Thomas) is told of their murder that causes an audience intake of breath.
That the Macbeths remain outside this humanity is perhaps this production's most telling image.