Hurst Heads Straight for the Heart of Darkness

NZ Herald, 31 May 2004




By Peter Calder

The most easily accessible of the great tragedies, Macbeth is often given fanciful interpretations that place it in modern settings or tease out of it a study of psychosexual dynamics or the corruptive force of power.

Michael Hurst, our most consistently impressive director and performer of Shakespeare, has come up with a version which says, almost audibly, "to hell with all that". He wades right in, feeling for the jet-black heart of the play and finding a man who, as he told one interviewer, has declared war on his own soul.

In this reading, Macbeth's "vaulting ambition" is not his moral flaw but his initial motive power, and the play charts the growth of the pure malevolence he must develop to achieve his ends.

This intensely character-based approach makes for a lean and kinetic production, stripped of adornment (it's barely two hours, including interval). It dispenses with the cauldron scene and collapses the apparitions cleverly into a single presence. In the middle of it, we watch a man's descent into the moral abyss (his "O, full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife" is bone-chilling) that avoids flamboyant dramatics; as the armies march against him he is casually scornful rather than loud and defiant.

Amid all this action, Hurst shows - as he did in his magnificent Hamlet - his unparalleled ability to speak the poetry. Words, snatches of phrase, sometimes whole passages, explode into life as if never heard before.

The production has its less successful elements: I'm not sure that the "weird sisters" this director has created fit snugly into the overall conception; the inclusion of the quite unplayable scene (IV, iii) between Malcolm and Macduff is a glaring blunder, not least because Keith Adams' stiff and stilted Malcolm looks like he's wandered in from a Star Trek convention; Peter Daube never really nails the thankless part of Banquo; and the climactic fight, conducted with fists, veers dangerously close to slapstick.

But John Verryt's set, which contracts and expands with the ease of a breath, is work of world-class standard; Anna Hewlett's viperish Lady Macbeth is beautifully judged; and the updated, "knock, knock" Drunken Porter scene gives us exactly the relief the original gave to Shakespearean audiences.

On balance, it's not the unalloyed triumph that Hamlet was, but it's unquestionably not to be missed. I, for one, can't wait until this man decides to shoulder King Lear.

©Copyright 2004, New Zealand Herald


Home  Recent Projects Future Projects