By Laura Irish

Macbeth NC.jpg
Abel Johnston as Macbeth. Photo credit Sam McIlroy.

I should preface this by saying that I love Shakespeare and Macbeth is by far Shakespeare’s work that I know the best. Shakespeare is often an artform that is shied away from by youth but this production of The Scottish Play was neither shy nor apologetic.

The story, at the heart, is about ambition and the cast and director, Luke Walton, embody the very word with this elaborate modern presentation of the piece. It is a rockstar’s Macbeth, if ever I saw one.

In a post-apocalyptic world, there are only a few tribes of the previous planet left, one of them being Aotearoa, New Zealand crossed with Scotland. The Scottish elements of the play are highlighted immediately as the start explodes with the entire Nelson Celtic Pipe Band (led by Callum Gilchrist, Bryce Gilchrist and Hayden Phipps) entering the auditorium and filling the stage of the Theatre Royal declaring the battleground of Macbeth’s first victory of the play. The sheer pomp, boldness and professionalism of the band set the tone for the evening as their pure sound reverberated throughout the sold out audience.

There are so many elements of the production that it is impossible to fully explore each one. In addition to the Celtic Band, this piece includes a live original score performed by Smokefree Rockquest Regional Winners – Ivasa, a powerful and emotional Kapa Haka, an elegant ballet scene which illustrates the power struggle between light and dark, projection and video, beautifully choreographed stage combat (Tristen Mathieson) and elements of musical theatre.

All of this is stunningly supported by the skilled technical team (JR Richardson, Sam McIlroy, Ben Rumsey, Jordan Duncan, Michael Gibbs, Torrey Gilchrist and Kevin Burgess). Apart from the beautiful stage pictures created by director, Luke Walton, the most impressive part of this production, by far, is the quality of acting by the young performers. It is nothing short of excellent. The ensemble as a whole (a cast of over 30 high school students) is a very strong unit, their passion for the story shines through their acting and the support for their fellow actors is key to holding this mammoth production with so many moving parts together. Highlights were the vulnerable, powerful and likeable embodiment of Macduff (Dan Merry), the playful yet terrifying Banquo (Sam McIlroy), the awesome physicality, unity and shockingly scary performances of Hecat (Catelin Walker) the witches and spirits, the wide-eyed portrayal and sultry singing voice of Lady Macbeth (Tabatha Pini-Hall), the innocent and tragic Lady Macduff (Lily Martin-Hine) and of course, the brilliant representation of the paranoid deterioration of our anti-hero Macbeth (Abel Johnston).

If I had any constructive criticism of this production, one would be a suggestion to find more creative ways to transition between scenes as the many black-outs to change set often took away from the building tension and energy of the show. The other area of improvement would be the changes done to the original script. The movement between Shakespeare’s original words, modern English and Te Reo is unneeded and sometimes seemed to spell out moments of the plot that were already easily distinguished by the action. I would challenge this production to trust themselves and their audience to understand Shakespeare through their acting, as the monologues that were done only in Shakespeare’s words (in particular, Johnston’s Tomorrow speech) were poetic, beautiful, clearly delivered and made me completely forget I was watching a high school production.

The last highlight of this show is the final battle scene between Macduff and Macbeth. Though I would have prefered more safety measures put into place in the stage combat, the passion of the fight is impressive, the choreography exciting and the clash of real broadswords (created masterfully by swordsmith, Jeff Brooks) is chilling.

As a whole, this is an extremely strong piece of theatre woven together with a variety of skills. It is a massive undertaking and I applaud Nelson College for its efforts. They definitely paid off. Seeing young actors connect with Shakespeare and bring his still relevant works to life is a passion of mine and this production was a joy to watch.

If you don’t have a ticket, get one fast, there are about 15 left for tonight and zero left for Friday night.

Shakespeare’s Macbeth
Performed by Nelson College
Directed by Luke Walton
Theatre Royal, Nelson
24-26 May, 2017
7 pm

One thought on “Macbeth

  1. I think this is a great summation of the work. Incredibly strong performances by this young cast, especially Abel and Tabitha. The array of entertainment modes on display was dazzling, a credit to the organisation, skill and zeal of the director. Yet the blackouts every few minutes created a rather tiring, staggered mode of viewership.


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