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Macbeth in the Dark

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by Emma Woodward (subscribe)
Emma is a writer from the Mornington Peninsula. On the weekends she likes to get outside to go trail running, camping, and exploring.
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To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow, - Macbeth

What's an ensemble with a commitment to energetic, accessible, and unique productions supposed to do when a pandemic hits, and theatres close? Create an energetic, accessible, and unique production for our times, of course!

Queensland's borders may be closed, but you can listen to the Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble's Macbeth in the Dark from the comfort of your own lockdown home.

The radio play Macbeth in the Dark brings together ten of the QSE's actors playing over twenty-five different roles. It features original music, and the artful sound engineering of Dominic Guilfoyle. Rebecca Murphy and Rob Pensalfini give chilling performances as Lady Macbeth and Macbeth, respectively, and the entire production has been overseen (remotely) by director Kate Wilson.

Director Kate Wilson Macbeth in the Dark
Director Kate Wilson managed to bring Macbeth in the Dark together without any of the actors being able to rehearse or record in person. Image by Benjamin Prindable Photography. Supplied by the Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble.

You can listen to the play on a pay-what-you-can basis between September 4th November 6th and audiences are encouraged to listen to the play by candlelight, in low lighting, or (if they are really game) in the dark.

There may be something lost in the translation of a stage play to an audio only version. Shakespeare wrote his dramatic and comedic scenes for actors to make full use of the physicality of theatre; but he also wrote words with enough force to carry a story on their own.

It's strange to follow a play without the aid of scene transitions, but with some clever sound engineering, the scenes for Macbeth in the Dark are painted through sound. A morning chorus of birds or a late-night owl call acts not only as an emotional cue but as a vital signal to the audience that the setting has changed.

Listening in the dark, the witches' cackles and the mournful music reach out into the room. It's definitely worth taking the time to set up with good speakers or headphones. And a few candles will help with the ghost story ambience.

Try closing your eyes later without hearing, "Sleep no more! Macbeth does murder sleep".

Ellen Hardisty records Macbeth in the Dark
Ellen Hardisty turns her home into a recording studio. Image by Benjamin Prindable Photography. Supplied by the Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble.

Recording the play can't have been without its challenges. Actors made their own recording studios under blankets, in their cars, or inside cupboards. This is the type of ingenuity and determination that is almost becoming normal as we find ways to be together in these unprecedented times.

This may not be your traditional performance of Shakespeare, but when will you ever get a chance again to have a theatre troupe performing in your own home?

Many of the things we love are out of reach right now, and it can seem that there's little we can do to support artists and others whose worlds have been turned upside down by this pandemic, but as the director herself wrote, "If nothing else, this project has kept our flame burning. We've tended it in the darkness and hope it brings light and warmth to yours."
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*Emma Woodward was invited as a guest
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When: September 4th November 6th
Where: Your lounge room, the castle, a desolate Scottish heath.
Cost: Whatever you could, or would, spend on an evening out.
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