It is a shameful indictment of the quality of present day Australian politicians that Greg Fleet’s creation of the foul-mouthed and aggressively ambitious Member for Cannington, Paul MacBeth, does not seem like a caricature at all – more so a faithful impression of the real thing.
Transporting Shakespeare’s plots into present day scenarios is not a new idea, but Fleet and Roz Hammond’s Signifying Nothing places the action squarely in the arena of contemporary party room politics and, due to its familiarity for the audience, this somewhat overused device works particularly well.
Here, morality and fair play are mere anachronisms, nothing more than empty words from the past to be used now only to dupe the unsuspecting Joe and Jane Publics of the world into voting for the serpents who hide behind such rhetoric.
Fleet is perfectly cast in the role of the ruthless politician. He is a picture of over-indulgence: loud and brash, quick tempered, and has the dubiously impressive capacity to hoover up copious amounts of blow to fuel his Superman delusion.
The vitriolic and expletive-ridden dialogue, clearly a comment on the lack of eloquence in contemporary political oratory, is beautifully counterpointed by bursts of Shakespeare’s original dialogue cleverly chosen and edited to fit the unfolding situation.
The device used to represent Shakespeare’s witches and apparitions – disembodied faces broadcast through the television – is a stroke of genius, serving the secondary, but no less important, purpose of making a pointed comment on the power of media coverage to sway political decision making in the modern era.
Fleet is ably supported on stage by Nicola Bartlett playing his wife, Lainey MacBeth, but she seemed to take some time to work into her role.
Bartlett delivered her lines without any real conviction in the early stages of the play, but by the second half, as her character became more drug-addled and unable to deal with the guilt she has concerning the circumstances of her son’s death, her performance grew more compelling and believable.
Raw and visceral, Signifying Nothing is, despite its flaws and inconsistencies, an engaging piece of theatre that challenges us to think carefully about how we use our voting privileges and to look closely at the character and motivations of those who purport to represent us in our parliaments.
Signifying Nothing is being performed at the Holden Street Theatres until March 19.