Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 33 No. 8. 10 June 1970
Phillip Mann's production of Macbeth, now running in the Memorial Theatre, is an exhilarating exercise in transforming the blueprint of the written play into dynamic theatre. The whole text was there and it ran without scene shifting, curtains or breaks of any kind for two and a quarter hours.
The act was a substantial presence without being monolithic and conveyed an immediate castle quality of heavy stone and receding dark corridors while retaining enough non-specific space to stage the other settings quickly in true Elizabethan spirit. The incisive cutting from scene to scene and act to act gave the whole a cinematic effect of montage: a highly appropriate form which highlights better than any other the commentary and contrast functions of the adjoining scenes. Moreover, this achieved the effect of instantaneous scene changing in the Elizabethan mode (a matter of one set of actors moving off and another coming on) and also made possible the playing of two scenes simultaneously. A fine example of this was created by overlapping the natural extension of Act IV, scene ii (the discovery and collection of the murdered Macduff family) and scene iii where Malcolm and Macduff talk of the unhappy situation in Scotland, while ignorant of the latest horror. This was done by using the upper and lower levels of the set simultaneously. This staging was used to particularly good effect in the closing stages to cut from Dunsinane to Siward's approaching army with economy and a necessary rhythmic impetus.
The treatment of the three witches and the murderers will no doubt be the most discussed aspects of the play. The intensity given to the supernatural atmosphere affected the audience with a chilling force. The slow reverberating drum beats which began before the lights went down infected the theatre with an ominous tone before they were consciously noticed. The Three Weird Sisters were used impressively as ceaselessly moving spectres and by doing without the bubbling pot and the restricting wild moors setting they had a fearsome omnipresent quality true to the theme of the play: the forces of evil which work on the raptures of natural order caused by treasonable ambition. The murderers were a little difficult to accept but they are consistent as perversions of natural order; and the suggestion that they were somehow gruesome aspects of Macbeth's own personality or even a miscreant variety of those 'man-childs' Lady Macbeth never produced (from the way Macbeth gathered them to himself) was an exciting discovery on the night.
The acting was good among the smaller parts where it might have been indifferent, although the soldiers, and especially Duncan, tried to project a gravelly voice too loudly for comfortable communication. The major parts were excellent and Jillian King played Lady Macbeth superbly well. Her 'unsex me here!" speech in the hovering presence of the inwoked Weird Sisters was shattering. Sam Neill's Macbeth had great presence and he delivered even the better known lines with a freshness all the more effective for being closer to the rhythm of tortured thought.
The attempts at maintaining deep, rough masculine voices among the other leads seemed to be an unnatural strain for them although Banquo (John Woods), Macduff (Donald Carson) and Ross (Roy Middleton) performed well in spite of the handicap. Malcolm (Stuart Devenie) was remarkably well spoken, and not just in contrast, with a clear and intelligent delivery. His testing of Macduff was not completely convincing and might have left those not familiar with the play confused as to his moral standing. The porter (Michael Bajko) was deservedly well received in a scene where significance and laughter are in delicate balance. Gwen Kaiser's costumes were entirely appropriate and Lady Macbeth's in the early scenes particularly had a striking austerity.
But the highest praise is due to Phillip Mann for designing and directing an exciting new vision of Macbeth, bold in concept and dynamic in unity of execution.