Johnny Carr on the other side of Macbeth

by | Jun 19, 2024

Following successful seasons in Edinburgh, London and New York, Zinnie Harris’ acclaimed play Macbeth (An Undoing) will make its Australian premiere at Malthouse Theatre on Friday 5 July. This revised and updated edition is a powerful reimagining of Shakespeare’s brutal tragedy, telling Lady Macbeth’s story as it has never been heard before.

Actor Johnny Carr (playing Macbeth) describes the proposal of a reimagining as an exciting experiment adding that Macbeth carries with it an enormous heft

“The play itself, the curse around it. How these characters have become symbols of ambition, power and manipulation. To pay homage to the original but simultaneously cracking it open and digging through the bones and throwing up alternative sequences of where the play could lead is a bold and challenging exercise.”

For those who love and respect the language and rhythm of Shakespeare, Carr says fans can expect to feel a true sense of the original.

“Zinnie Harris has woven her words into the original in remarkable fashion, he says. “But she challenges the performers and the audience to question the inevitability of these characters. She opens new doors with her language, playing with the plot and summoning fresh possibilities.”

However, from an actor’s perspective, Carr acknowledges that it has been challenging to separate from the original because he believes Shakespeare’s classic to be so embedded in our consciousness. But the balancing opposite for him, is that working within Harris’ language and her world offers huge rewards from the perspective of tracking these new trajectories as well as a sense of fresh exploration of her version generally given Lady Macbeth is now the driving force of the play.

“The play has an instinctive desire at times to pull her back into her original role,” explains Carr. “So there is this really powerful tension between the character stepping out of the original and wishing to rewrite her course. So the play as we know it sort of splinters into this entirely new beast. It is a bold proposal and there is a real sense of danger to what Lady Macbeth is pursuing.

I think the main theme is the agency of Lady Macbeth. An incredible character that due to her demise in the original is somewhat short-changed of a complete trajectory. Her text seems to argue a notion that there is a potential missing fragment of how the second half of the play might have played out for her. How would someone like that be stripped of her agency so easily, is that an accurate portrayal and ultimately what if she wasn’t? It’s a really brave rewriting of a shared history.”

Carr plays the ultimately doomed Scottish general who steals his place as the King of Scotland with the help of his equally ambitious wife.

“In many ways they start as a single entity with a shared goal,” says Carr of the Macbeths. “His trajectory mirrors the original to begin with but the results of his actions hit hard and he is plagued by his actions. He contains multitudes. He is driven, he uses a language of violence but seems to have this strange moral code which he inevitably betrays and then has to wear the ramifications of that. We would probably label him now as someone who is suffering from PTSD. I think it is a trap that he is just a symbol of ambition, greed and power and there is a lot of opportunity provided to dig into the nuance and complexity of the human behind the actions.”

Carr, a VCA Acting graduate, says it’s always appealing to get to play characters that you would disagree with. “I consider being an actor a real gift that you get to practice empathy deeply and frequently. In a world that often seems to like simple options of either condoning or condemning people for their choices, it’s enriching to have to challenge your own inbuilt biases and find a way that you can make sense of people’s actions that you wouldn’t take. You have to find ways to stick up for them.”

Macbeth (An Undoing) is a visceral and haunting epic of the 11th century on stage. Lady Macbeth has a vision to unleash the forces of change and renewal—and to seize control of the kingdom. Finally, Lady Macbeth takes her rightful place. The path to freedom is sometimes stained with blood.

Says Carr, “There is all the darkness, desire and drive of the original being smashed to pieces and rebuilt afresh in front of your eyes. The ensemble is incredible, the design jaw dropping, this is a creative team that is at the top of their game. Get on down to the heath.”

July 5 – 28

Images: Lauren Gallina

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