Lunch at Pinkus Müller, a brewery & restaurant in Münster, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Northwestern Germany. The restaurant traces its origins to 1816 when a local couple first opened a bakery and a brewery. In 1866 the bakery was closed and a malthouse was opened instead. In the following 100 years the brewery and the pub were expanded; in 1993 a bottling plant was added. It’s the only brewery left in Münster from its original 150 breweries.
Hollywood star Jai Courtney on why he couldn’t resist playing Macbeth at MTC
Shakespeare’s troubled villain is ‘the role of a lifetime’.
Jun 2, 2017
“It’s great watching Jai do the fight scenes. You believe he is the best warrior in the army, which is what Macbeth is meant to be,” says actor Geraldine Hakewill.
Cast as Lady Macbeth to Jai Courtney’s foul villain, she can appreciate the stage presence of an action hero – whichever century he finds himself in.
“I haven’t seen many Macbeths where that’s the case, where you believe he could devastate the opposing army,” she says. “It’s in his body, how he can handle himself on stage. He knows his way around a gun,” she concludes, to laughter from Courtney.
He takes the compliment with a good grace, and there’s no doubting his presence on and off stage. A star of several Hollywood blockbusters, Courtney has a powerful build and a mighty voice. Shakespeare’s lines will no doubt boom right to the back row when the Melbourne Theatre Company production opens this month.
In a break from rehearsals, the two share a sofa to explain their contemporary take on Shakespeare’s fierce Scottish play of witches, ghosts and human villainy; Hakewill a dark, lean and focused figure to Courtney’s reflective film star.
At 31, Courtney can count himself a successful member of the Australian pack in Los Angeles. Raised in Sydney, he attended the WAAPA drama school in Perth and soon landed television and film roles in the United States.
Following his malevolent turn as a very, very bad guy opposite Tom Cruise and Werner Herzog in Jack Reacher, he appeared in A Good Day to Die Hard, Divergent and its sequel Insurgent and as the faintly perplexing Captain Boomerang in the 2016 DC Comics outing Suicide Squad.
He’s barely revisited the stage since his WAAPA days. So why now, and why Macbeth?
“I didn’t really see an option for myself once I was offered this,” he says with feeling. “It’s the role of a lifetime, and it came along at a time when I was exploring where my interest in film really stood, and the jobs I was chasing versus the jobs I took.”
Shakespeare, of course, requires a bit more than knowing your way around a gun. Courtney and Hakewill both saw Kate Mulvany’s recent electrifying performance as Richard III with Bell Shakespeare. Her Richard, embittered by mockery and physical weakness, was a schemer, a villain with more wit than weaponry.
Courtney described her as “an absolute force. It was one of the most courageous performances I’d seen on stage.”
Yet Macbeth is a very different kind of villain, in his view.
“He’s a man who’s embarked on a tyrannical journey, and he’s always at odds with the things he has to do. It’s an interesting arc to chart as he wrestles with it right up until the end.
"At one point, he does give himself over to it and submits to chaos. It’s the horror of the acts he chooses to commit that sends him mad. Unlike Richard III, which is all about righting the wrongs endured by him, Macbeth is built on ambition. He bites off more than he can chew in that sense. It’s interesting and hard to play the arm wrestle within one’s self.”
What Hakewill saw in Mulvany’s performance was “her great feel for a story”.
“In Macbeth, the characters go to places that aren’t justifiable from an audience’s point of view but you have to take them with you, because it’s your story.
"Lady Macbeth is often seen as a villain because she doesn’t have someone whispering in her ear, so that’s tricky to find the humanity and the empathy but I am searching for that, because I think there are many reasons she acts the way she does.
"Even though we’re setting this in quite a contemporary context, I’m thinking about when it was written. Even today, here and in other parts of the world, there are constraints that you put yourself under, that society puts women under, that prevent them achieving their ambitions.”
The role marks a welcome departure for her, she says. “It’s a woman playing a villain! I’m usually playing someone sweet and lovely. This role’s frightening and that’s why I wanted to do it.”
Hakewill has mostly based her career in Sydney, but she appeared in Baal at the Malthouse some years ago and in Joanna Murray-Smith's Fury for the Sydney Theatre Company.
“I probably seem younger than I am so I ended up playing a lot of teenage girls for a while – usually the broken ingenue who gets screwed over by men, because that’s what history has often given us in plays.”
An action role finally came her way in the television series Wanted which this year earned her a Logie nomination for outstanding new talent.
“That was a lovely surprise.”
It’s also well worth hunting down a short film called Young Labor. In this concentrated gem of political satire, Hakewill plays a hilariously narcissistic Labor organiser, browbeating volunteers from party room to fundraising cake stall.
Perfect training for Lady Macbeth, perhaps? “Yes, it looks at though it’s in me somewhere,” she says, laughing. “I got cast for a reason!”
Both actors believe director Simon Phillips has the right touch for the heightened theatricality of Macbeth. Says Hakewill: “Simon’s shows are always big shows.”
Big enough, presumably, for the movie star male lead who has left his home in Los Angeles for a few months in downtown Melbourne.
Courtney admits theatre is as big a challenge as any he’s faced. “I just wanted to get on stage all through my teens.
"As you grow and learn more and push yourself, your ambitions grow, of course … I’ve had funny luck working in film on pre-existing franchises and am often asked about the responsibility to serve those – but the movies can change so much at any part of the process. So in a weird way the pressure is so much greater under these circumstances on stage – because it’s on you to rise to it every night."
Courtney says after Macbeth he’s "sticking around to do some film work”. He enjoys going back and forth between Australia and the US. He’ll soon be seen in World War II drama The Exception with Christopher Plummer.
In the past, he has worked on Australian films with his friend Joel Edgerton and with Russell Crowe on The Water Diviner. Next up locally is a planned remake of Storm Boy with Courtney playing Hideaway Tom, the boy’s father.
“I’m really excited to be on board with this retelling of such an iconic Australian story and it’s so wonderful to have the privilege of working with Geoffrey Rush. I was a fan of the book growing up so it’s an honour to be a part of the film
Macbeth Review: A Modern Take On A Veritable Classic
There seems to be a current trend in the modernisation of well-known plays, to rejuvenate and refresh age-old stories for contemporary audiences. The 2015 Malthouse production of Antigone, as well as Melbourne Theatre Company’s Hamlet and Richard III are notable examples from recent times. MTC’s 2017 production of Macbeth is the latest, and perhaps one of the most distinguished examples of this dramatic approach. Experienced director, Simon Phillips, maintains his striking visual dramatic style, which is aided in no small measure by the imposing and multi-faceted sets, costume design and beaming lights.
We first see Macbeth (Hollywood actor Jai Courtney) pillaging the wastelands of Scotland for the Crown which he so devotedly serves. He is incredibly popular amongst his fellow soldiers, and even King Duncan (Robert Menzies) seems to take a liking to him. However, Macbeth’s stable, statesman-like qualities disintegrate once he hears three witches (Jane Montgomery Griffiths, Shareena Clanton, Kamil Ellis) prophesise that he will become King. This sets Macbeth on a crazed path of savagery, power-grabbing and paranoia.
This ‘update’ is evident from the very beginning of the production: the audience was welcomed by actors seated at a vandalised bus stop, an immediate indication that we were far from the middle ages. Indeed, the play appears to be designed to appeal to contemporary cultural sensibilities, as it bears a remarkable resemblance to conventions of the cinema. The window through which the audience views the action almost feels the same as a rectangular widescreen. The heavy musical score functions more as a soundtrack, mostly evidently accentuating the tension and drama of the story and emphasising its most formidable moments, recalling the work of film composers. It favours atmosphere over extravagance. Harpsichords and crumhorns are traded in for rumbling soundscapes and a resonant bass drone.
Similarly, swords and axes are exchanged for automatic rifles and knives, and chain mail for jungle fatigues. The reinterpretation suits the material remarkably well, in all of its darkness and treachery, reflecting the competence of Phillips’s performance decisions, as it is facilitated by the conspicuously achromatic sets and meticulous, effective lighting. In short, the transformation from Shakespearian times to a dark, dystopian future – mired in corruption, uncertainty and division – could not have been pulled off better.
The sets, designed by Shaun Gurton, are supremely detailed. They change and shift with great frequency and dexterity, keeping the audience invested and the momentum steaming along. Each one is distinct, while housing a sense of cohesion to the carefully-formed world of Scotland. Close communication and collaboration with lighting designer Nick Schlieper is evident, as the lights often provide a point of focus in the field of view – the burning car in the opening scene and lit candles are prime examples.
Of course, the good qualities of the play are not limited to these accompanying elements, which augment its more obvious triumphs.
Jai Courtney gives an energised performance as the scheming, yet disturbed Macbeth, capturing both qualities extremely well. He is at times impassioned, and at others, deeply anguished. Geraldine Hakewill’s Lady Macbeth is a highlight of the production: cold-blooded, scheming; and simultaneously sensual and sophisticated. Both performances capture the indelible rhythms of Shakespearian dialogue while, correspondingly, being fresh – sometimes spitting out lines with a prominent Australian twang. One feels the role of Macbeth is a much needed one for Courtney, who over the past few years has spent his time in loud, brass Hollywood tentpoles such as Terminator: Genisys and A Good Day to Die Hard.
MTC’s production of Macbeth is a visual and visceral feast. The considerable efforts of all involved – the director, set designer, lighting director, and performers – are bound to weigh heavily on its audiences. The production allows itself to be accessible to those unacquainted with the work, and also provides something worthwhile to those well-versed in the superlative realm of Shakespearian theatre. In all, an expansive and adventurous production that doesn’t stray too far from its material.
Malthouse theatre puts on a work of theatre that Combines Tom Waits, William S Burroughs, Germanic folklore version of a Faustian bargain, Weimar German cabaret threepenny opera Brecht nonsense as well as the guy who did Einstein on the beach staging, opera vocals, and black comedy
“I don’t believe that celebrities have played a major role in the expansion of veganism among teenagers. They are likely to have influenced some people, but the main driving force behind the movement is social media. This has allowed the vegan message to spread a lot quicker than it would otherwise have done. Veganism is definitely more common among young people now. I feel that social media has played a major part in this, but there’s also the fact that younger people aren’t bound as much by traditional values, so they are more likely to change to a more leftfield thing such as veganism. ” - Euan Reece, 17
“Me and my vegan friends connect a lot through Facebook. I’m in countless vegan groups and get updates on upcoming events such as vegan food fairs and protests. I use these groups to ask questions and discuss ideas with like-minded vegans. I also watch quite a few vegan YouTubers, who are very inspirational. A few of my favorites are Bonnie Rebecca and Freelee the Banana Girl.” - Isabella Hood, 15
“More young people are into it (especially at about my age) because publicity for it has grown on social media, especially on Instagram. Young people like to have control over something, and what you eat is one thing you can have control of.” - Megan Malthouse, 17
“Veganism is a lot more popular among teens these days. I’ve seen so many people become vegan recently. I wouldn’t say I was influenced by celebrities, more by people on YouTube, but when I see celebrities who are vegan it gives me a greater respect for them.” - Coleen Brennan, 14
i’m so lonely in my enjoyment of this one production but ANOTHER thing I loved about the Malthouse 2017 Black Rider production that’s lost when you only have the tom waits concept album as a reference if you can’t get down to melbourne to see it before this week is that I got to see Meow Meow and Paul Capsis in these gender ambiguous performances.
By which I mean while Meow Meow’s suit and appearance wasn’t fully androgynous she was playing the demon “Pegleg” and that role is not only a traditionally masculine one but also one that deals with guns and bullets which is in the show a sign of masculinity so despite the dual drug-dealer and seducer roles she performs in demonic form there is something really enjoyable about her singing these songs and it’s in great contrast to Tom Waits voice on the same songs
Paul Capsis uses falsetto amazingly! his long hair also helps ad to the ambiguity and it’s no coincidence that in the production of threepenny opera he performed in (TPO being a clear influence on the original production of black rider) he played Jenny and while his characters in this production are men he lends a vocal quality of the feminine to his role that creates incredible versions of the songs.
Also of course I have to mention le gateau chocolat as a performer because he is known for his drag but that doesn’t actually relate to his performance at all so i’ll leave it at just a mention of his casting and that his voice was FANTASTIC
the point of this ramble is I’m mad there’s not enough productions of this show that have video or audio recordings so I can’t compare outside of photos but there are so many elements to play with and this malthouse production would have been great regardless but the added element of gender flexibility only helped it, it is a show inspired by older forms of media and there is a history of gender nonconformity and subversion in the art-forms it draws from so the more it plays with these concepts as more productions are put on in the future the better tbh
who can point me in the direction of discussions of The Black rider: the casting of the magic bullets, aside from the 1990 tv broadcast?
Built by Newson Garrett in the mid-19th century, the 832-seat Concert Hall began life as a malthouse. Officially opened in 1967 by HM Queen Elizabeth II, the Hall suffered serious fire damage two years later, re-opening in time for the Aldeburgh Festival the following year. The conversion of the building was undertaken by Arup Associates, with the acoustics supervised by Derek Sugden.