Rob Croser co-founded Independent Theatre in 1983, and it has since grown to become one of South Australia’s most revered local companies. Running a theatre company for so long is itself worthy of recognition, but for decades the artistic director balanced his passion for the stage with a profession in law, representing children in child protection cases in the Youth Court.

“I would find I would get home from a very emotionally and mentally exhausting day at the children’s court, and I would walk into a rehearsal room, and it would be like switching on and plugging in to a different energy socket,” says Croser, who has now retired as a lawyer.

“I just found that one energised the other.”

Among his many passions, Croser has a reserved a space for Shakespeare’s plays, one decorated with personal anecdotes from his childhood and schooling years.

“I love Shakespeare. I have all my life. My grandmother had this wonderful old, 20th-century edition of Shakespeare [works] that had paintings of all the old productions, and I used to pore over this when I was seven or eight.

“Mum and Dad gave me The Complete Works of Shakespeare, and I must have been the only boarder at Scotch College with a copy of Shakespeare’s works.

“Funnily, Macbeth, spelt slightly differently, also happens to be my middle name. It’s a family name, McBeath, but pronounced the same, so I had that connection with the sound of the name all my life.”

Macbeth is a long-standing favourite of Croser’s, and Independent Theatre’s new production will be performed by a young cast he believes will bring tremendous personality to each of the familiar roles.

“We have this wonderful actor in the company, Matt Hyde, who played the lead in Bent for us last year. I then thought Matt would be a fantastic Macbeth,” he says.

“Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in the past have been played by people in their fifties and sixties, but they need to be of an age where you can believe they are still capable of having children.”

Adelaide’s Rebecca Kemp will play Lady Macbeth.

“I’ve also got a 10-year-old playing Macduff’s son, and a 14-year-old playing Banquo’s son, so the idea of Macbeth killing people’s children is really there in front of you – that horrific notion.”

Shedrick Yarkpai (Macduff) and Matt Hyde (Macbeth) during rehearsals. Photo: Jacqui Munn

When talking about this Shakespearean classic, Croser expresses reverence, enthusiasm, and sentiment towards the characters and themes within it.

“It’s about watching Macbeth, a noble warrior essentially, by choices that he makes, descending into hell.

“The brilliance of the play is that despite all of that, despite all the monstrous things he does, you still feel for him, it’s still a tragedy. Even when Macbeth comes to his end, there is something heroic about it.”

Croser is adamant this production will stay true to the traditional nature of the Shakespearean play.

“Over recent years and several productions that I have seen, there is a tendency, particularly with Macbeth, to move it into the present day… because the play is so dark people get drawn to what I call post-apocalyptic style.

“Whilst it may be interesting in a design concept, the play is so rich in Renaissance thinking about morality, about man’s place in the universe, about the damnation of one’s soul, about the devil, and the witchcraft aspect of the play, and I have never seen it work, done in a modern production, because people don’t have that mindset any more.

“I’m setting it, in terms of the costuming, in a period that suggests medieval, because it’s the only way, that I can see, where you can really make those essential components of the philosophy and the belief system of the play work.”

Lyn Wilson, Pam O’Grady and Emma Bleby play the witches in Independent Theatre’s Macbeth. Photo: Jacqui Munn

The set will be relatively simple, there merely to complement the actors. Lighting, sound effects, smoke and mist are the more powerful elements of production, used to reflect the dark themes of the play.

Ultimately, Croser wants to provide space for actors to dominate with their performances.

“As far as the set is concerned, with all the Shakespeares that I’ve done, the first thing I always look at is the Globe Theatre, [which is] what Shakespeare had at his disposal, and it was essentially a bare platform with a wall and some doors in it.

“That’s the basic shape for this [Macbeth]. It is a sloped floor, and very little furniture. There is a banquet table, a couple of thrones, a bench and a stool, so that the actors have got free rein over this whole acting platform to explore the language, explore the emotions.”

One way in which the production will differ from traditional productions is in the cultural diversity of the cast

“Our company has done a lot of work, particularly, with African actors and Indian actors,” Croser says. “We’ve got two actors of African extraction in this playing Scotsmen, and Macduff is being played by Shedrick Yarkpai, who played Othello for us.”

COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted the arts over the past year, but Independent Theatre still managed to present two of its four scheduled productions in 2020, which provided healthy leverage into the 2021 season.

Croser says the resilience of Independent’s actors was exemplified as South Australia’s most recent lockdown led into Macbeth’s production week. Speaking to InReview last week, he noted that the play was “in good shape already” and extra rehearsals would be held once restrictions eased.

“I think the people who love performing, who love working on play texts and working with other actors, they spring back into action again, and that’s what we are doing at the moment.”

The opening date of Independent Theatre’s Macbeth has been pushed back just one day by the pandemic lockdown. It will open on July 31 at the Goodwood Theatre.

Michelle Wakim is the first recipient of the Helpmann Academy InReview Mentorship. She is working with experienced writers Samela Harris (theatre) and Katherine Tamiko Arguile (visual arts) to write a series of articles that will be published in InReview.

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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.