To say I was thrilled to see Director Antoni Cimolino stay true to the play’s original setting of 11th century Scotland is an understatement. Don’t get me wrong; I love a good modernization – strong emphasis on the word good, because I have seen some questionable and downright disappointing modernizations of Shakespeare’s plays. Case in point, the 2009 Macbeth production I saw at Stratford was set in 1960s colonial Africa – I’ll pause to let you mull that one over.
Needless to say, the supernatural elements, power-hungry ambition, and murderous treason that cement Macbeth as one of Shakespeare’s greatest works are best showcased in its original setting. Cimolino uses nature to enrich his 11th century Scotland by covering the stage with moss and grass. Flashes of lightening and loud claps of thunder are impeccably used to mask the play’s most violent scenes. This repeated trope creatively alerts the audience of the murderous acts taking place, while the inability to see the violence makes it all the more terrifying because all you can hear are the terrified screams of pain.
For anyone who hasn’t read Macbeth, the play opens with Macbeth (Ian Lake) triumphantly heading home after defending Scotland against an attack. Along the way, he and his trusted friend Banquo (Scott Wentworth) stumble upon three very strange women, who greet Macbeth with a prophecy that changes the course of his life and sets the play’s action in motion. The strange women, known as the Weird Sisters (or Witches, played by Brigit Wilson, Deidre Gillard-Rowlings and Lanise Antoine Shelley), address Macbeth as the Thane of Cawdor, even though he is currently the Thane of Glamis, and state that one day he will be king. Upon his return home, King Duncan (Joseph Ziegler) grants Macbeth the title of Thane of Cawdor, and Macbeth begins to wonder how far he’s willing to go to make the Weird Sisters’ prophecy a reality.
What I find most fascinating about this play is how madness completely takes over Macbeth and Lady Macbeth (Krystin Pellerin), to the point that they have completely lost themselves in the dark deeds they committed. Lake gives a standout performance as Macbeth, complete with the power-hungry ambition and crazed fear of losing everything. His madness and obsession with maintaining his power is beautifully showcased in the final fight scene with Macduff (Michael Blake).
Pellerin’s performance as Lady Macbeth is just as wonderful as Lake’s. She cunningly wields her power over Macbeth to shake him of his cowardice before committing Duncan’s murder, and even takes the daggers from him to finish the deed herself. Her demise into pure madness is slower than Macbeth’s, but ultimately more deadly. Pellerin artfully brandishes her confidence by maintaining her power for as long as she can, until the weight of the murders on her conscience is too much for her to live with.
A Macbeth production is only as strong as the supernatural representation showcased by the Weird Sisters. Gillard-Rowlings, Shelley and Wilson are beyond creepy with their filthily tattered clothing, scraggly hair, hunchbacks and eerie voices. At one point in the production, one of the Sisters acts like she’s possessed with a demonic voice, echoing her thoughts and freezing in place. These three steal the show during the final scene; while everyone is chanting for the new King of Scotland, the Sisters stand at the edge of the stage, staring out at the audience with looks that say their powers brought this all about.
In case you couldn’t tell from my review, I highly recommend making the trek out to Stratford to see this amazing production.
Macbeth is playing in the Festival Theatre until Nov. 5. Tickets can be purchased online at stratfordfestival.ca.