You may have seen Macbeth in your high school years, as the Shakespearean tragedy is a popular play on the secondary school English curriculum. You’ll have a chance this summer to see Macbeth at The Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario in 2016. Torontonicity was recently invited to the festival to review Shakespeare’s tragedy.
Macbeth, or The Scottish Play as it is to be superstitiously referred to in the theatre in order to avoid great tragedy to oneself, contains themes of the usurping of power, murder, the power of the subconscious, the power dynamics between husbands and wives, and the supernatural. Generals Macbeth and Banquo have recently won a battle against Irish and Norwegian armies. As the men return to the court of King Duncan, they encounter three witches who predict that: 1) Macbeth will become the Thane of Cawdor; 2) Macbeth will become King; and 3) Banquo will father kings. Macbeth is seduced and confused by the witches’ prophecies and unfortunately shares them with his wife, the ambitious Lady Macbeth, who urges her husband to murder King Duncan so that he may become king himself. If you are familiar with the tragedy, you will know that things go downhill from here with more murders, madness and that compulsive hand-wringing.
The banquet scene is executed with top notch skill by Lighting Designer Michael Walton. Banquo’s ghost (Scott Wentworth) appears at the table in Macbeth’s line of vision while the surrounding lights go dark in order to hide the dinner guests. We see only Macbeth and his haunting vision of Banquo. Banquo’s ghost disappears at stage right, only to reappear at stage left to give Macbeth (and the audience!) another fright.
Ian Lake as Macbeth and Kristin Pellerin as Lady Macbeth have great chemistry together, which Director Antoni Cimolino capitalizes on in a highly sensual scene. We see the ties between husband and wife in their physical displays of affection and it’s easy to see the strong influence Lady Macbeth has on her husband. If you are expecting a formidable Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, Lake and in particular, Pellerin, however, are physically less imposing. In fact, in Pellerin’s first scenes as Lady Macbeth, one could describe her as demure, sweet, youthful. Yet both Lake and Pellerin do a credible job with their respective roles and it is their chemistry that explains Lady Macbeth’s psychological hold on her husband.
Cimolino’s production is not for the queasy. Although some of the violence occurs offstage (King Duncan’s murder), the grisly murder of Macduff’s pregnant wife and child is graphically chilling.
Michael Blake is a standout with great stage presence as the grieving Macduff. Blake skilfully conveys Macduff’s desolate sorrow and anger at the news of his wife’s and children’s murder and we see Blake convert that sorrow into raging violence against Macbeth.
Some of the actors in the first half did not project their voices adequately so, at times, it was difficult to hear some of their lines, but projection was much better in the second half.
The scenes featuring the three witches, played with wonderful mischievous abandon by Brigit Wilson, Deidre Gillard-Rowlings and Lanise Antoine Shelley, are downright spooky thanks to crashing sound effects by Thomas Ryder Payne and strobe lighting from Michael Walton, creating a stormy night scene. Another dynamic action on stage includes Fight Director John Stead’s dramatic swordfight sequence.
Macbeth at The Stratford Festival 2016 is daring and electrifying. Macbeth has been extended from May 3, 2016 to November 5, 2016. Tickets for Macbeth may be purchased online at The Stratford Festival.