*The author realises that the quote used in her title is not from Macbeth; however, she likes it too much not to use it.
Macbeth and his court sip mixed drinks out of red solo cups. Lady Macbeth wears dangling sword-shaped earrings. A witches’ potion is brewed with hair ties, empty beer cans, and a used condom. And to top it off, Lady Gaga’s Judas is the soundtrack to post-homicide revelry. Such scenes are so commonplace they eventually cease to jar, and instead simply blend into the sinister, fantastic world of MAC BETH, Eric Schmidt’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s notorious Scottish Play. Lila Patterson’s outstanding direction, along with the sheer talent of her actors and designers, results in a dazzling showcase of the power of female rage, and one of the best stagings of the tragedy you’ll be pressed to find anywhere, let alone the world of student theatre.
From the start, MAC BETH is dazzling. Amidst eerie purple lights and strange sounds, three teenage girls, still clad in their school uniforms, gather in a junkyard to perform their eerie incantations. Other girls slowly trickle in, using their cell phones and school bags to transform the seventeenth-century drama into something immediate and modern. Immediately captivating is Hannah Shiblaq’s stand-out performance as MacBeth (stylised as such to call attention to the feminine roots of the name). Shiblaq hits every emotional beat flawlessly, be it her early excitement, her frenzied panic as she struggles to comprehend what she has done, or her final descent into painful, unwavering madness; even her gruesome death throes holds you spellbound, forbidding you to tear your eyes away. Equally outstanding is her partner, Clara Curtis as Lady MacBeth, both when onstage alone or in a duo with Shiblaq. Their relationship is jarringly tender against the murder transpiring on their doorstep, but it works: their love makes the audience root for the pair even as their actions spiral hideously out of control.
The production’s other great strength lies in its sound and lighting. The use of coloured backlights and handheld torches is both foreboding and fantastically eye-catching. Meanwhile, the actors hum, chant, and scream, while the occasional pop or heavy metal track blasts to anchor the action back to the after-school parties all-too-familiar to the vast majority of the student audience. In this rendition, it isn’t scenes with the Weird Sisters that carry the greatest ethereal atmosphere, but rather MacBeth’s scenes of madness. In one particularly memorable moment, the audience is held captive as a starkly illuminated MacBeth shrieks while other cast members hold torches under their chins. The only downside of this lighting technique is that the frequent backlighting has a tendency to cast the actors’ faces in shadow—though the technical constraints of the Buchanan Theatre (a lecture hall by day) shoulder a good portion of the blame for this issue.
Blocking and choreography are equally on point: the actors’ movements are visceral and shocking at key moments, whether it be MacBeth’s torment at the hands of the ghost of Banquo (Poppy Kimitris), the final showdown with Macduff (Louise Windsor), or when MacBeth is handed back to the witches to meet her grisly end. And just in case the audience gets too comfortable, we are reminded we are watching a gaggle of schoolgirls when they burst into frenzied, jumpy dances, or take up poses that wouldn’t be out of place in Heathers.
Best of all, however, is when MAC BETH really delves into the core of female rage. Girls drink, girls dance, but girls also die: harshly, bitterly, manhandled by their peers to drown in bathtubs. They film each others’ descents into madness for posterity, they giggle and take selfies with the crowns of their vanquished enemies. For these girls, their actions are a sudden release from the constraints surrounding their quotidian lives: suddenly, at long last, they are free to let go of their inhibitions and let the world quake at their power. The final ending sequence is a visceral exploration of such violent catharsis—and one that ends with the girls being yanked back to reality as sirens blare in the distance and blood-soaked figures flee the scene. The ultimate power of MAC BETH is what it leaves you with: not joy, not sorrow, but simply a release: an expulsion of your violent impulses as you prepare to re-enter the real world.