There is a tonne of Shakespeare or Shakespearean-inspired performance around at the moment.
If you’re anything like me, there is something daunting about going to these shows. Will I get the story? Will I understand the language? Will I get those three hours of my life back if I can’t engage with the play?
To be fair, in every instance where I’ve conquered the fear and bought the ticket, I’ve been just fine. With Willy, you are in good hands because his themes are epic but they’re universal.
The story behind this Macbeth is a timely one and personal, not just for me, but for a theatre company negotiating a time when privilege is being challenged and change is messy and complex.
Last year, SheShakespeare launched itself as a new Sydney independent theatre company dedicated to working with women to produce Shakespearean performance.
When it announced its cast, however, the company was immediately and loudly criticised in social media for its lack of racial diversity.
It’s almost two decades since I’ve performed in a Shakespearean play.
I was Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it was Redcliffe in Brisbane, and it was 1999. It was a transformative show for me (talking the director into auditioning me – a woman, and a multi-racial one at that), then smashing the audition and being cast.
The process of that show was wonderful and working with community as well as professional actors, issues of my gender and racial background weren’t raised again.
Fast-forward to 2018 and I’m working with Shakespeare once again, this time with SheShakespeare, and race and gender are at the top of the arts discourse. And this company has already had a taste of negotiating that difficult territory with its first production, As You Like It.
A very confronting and important conversation was had over its casting choices and, to its credit, the company took the stinging criticism and responded with a statement acknowledging their error and commitment to evolving.
This time around, the cast of SheShakespeare’s second production, Macbeth, includes women from a range of racial backgrounds and ages, and addresses that very large elephant in the room from the previous year.
We’ve had conversations in the rehearsal room that haven’t always been easy. Seeing through someone else’s eyes can be confronting and scary.
Growth hurts, and it has been tough negotiating it in the context of a play deeply rooted in ambition and the things humans do to get what they want. SheShakespeare is still growing and it’s an amazing and exciting thing to be a part of.
Can the events of Macbeth happen in a world populated solely by women?
Absolutely. And it’s even more complex and fraught with passion, ambition and madness. And it’s frighteningly, emotionally violent.
All of the characters are women, and this frees us to show the multiple aspects of women – not just those of mother, saint, whore, virgin or temptress. There is complexity and freedom in this production. The women involved have each made unique character choices that show women you may never have encountered on a stage before.
There is always more that needs to be done to fairly represent our community in ability, age, racial background and gender. And it is a constant fight to challenge unconscious biases and to educate. Growth is painful and personal but it is worth it.
I’m excited to be playing Banquo and I’m thrilled to be in this company of brave, fierce, sensitive and funny women.
And I’m proud of the journey that this company of women is on, painful as that may sometimes be.
Come and see this Macbeth. You won’t just be supporting a new theatre company, you’ll be investing in a company that is learning and growing, challenging and transforming.
Oh, and you’ll see an amazing assembly of some of the most engaging women on stage at the moment in Sydney.