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Arguably the most popular production he'd written in William Shakespeare’s day, Macbeth in a contemporary theatre setting is a bit tricky to stage. Much of the historical political context is irrelevant to a 21st century audience, there are a lot of short scenes back to back, and while extended battle scenes might lend themselves perfectly to a blockbuster action movie, the logistics of staging multiple large scale sword fights on a relatively small stage can be problematic.
Director Chris Abraham took a minimalist, Elizabethan-esque approach to both the production aesthetics and staging techniques in a way that gave momentum to the majority of the action and wove together potentially disparate scenes in a way that was both evocative and largely cohesive. There were a surprisingly amount of nuanced and deeply felt performances, lower in the usual “broad stroke” acting that I typically see on the larger Vancouver stages.
Overall the most cohesive, nuanced and atmospheric production of Macbeth I have seen to date.
Danielle's personal favourites:
-The Porter scene
-The coronation scene
-MacDuff learning of his wife and children
-Macbeth learning of Lady Macbeth’s demise and preparing for battle
-Lady Macbeth’s madness
-The armies plotting amongst the audience
-The beautiful set, costumes and sound effects
Missed the mark for Danielle:
-The banquet scene
-Malcom and Macduff discussing the state of Scotland
-Occasional unnecessarily “shouty” voices
Macbeth runs at Bard on the Beach in Vanier Park, Vancouver, BC until 13 September 2018.
~ reviewed by Danielle Benzon
We'd love to hear from you:
As a theatre-going member of the public, do you see a lot of (if any) Shakespearean productions? What are your thoughts about period vs contemporary set and costumes? How do you feel about Macbeth in particular? Please share your thoughts on this particular production if you see it.
Hey Theatre Addicts, my name is Danielle and tonight I'm going to be reviewing Macbeth at Bard on the Beach. I'm really excited about this show because I actually directed Macbeth a good number of years ago, just at the Fringe. It has become quite close to my heart through that experience so I'm quite excited to see what they do, what choices they make, and how much I remember of the play because I haven't looked at it in years.
Chris Abraham who is Crow's Theatre’s Artistic Director also directed at Stratford, I believe. Not Stratford Upon Avon, but Stratford in Ontario, the big Shakespeare festival there. So I'm excited to see what he will do with it: whether he'll bring a new voice to Bard on the Beach...
In my pretentious youth I was a little bit resentful of Bard on the Beach because they really turned it into an institution. And they are commercial. In my older age I think that's good because they're still around and they're still managing to bring theatre to a lot of people. And Shakespeare to a lot of people. In my youth I thought that was “selling out”, but I'm changing my mind about that. I've seen some really amazing productions there. I don't always agree with their choices so I'm very curious to see what I think this evening.
After the show:
I don't know if you're familiar with the play Macbeth, but it's quite a tricky play to stage. It's almost backwards. In the beginning there's a lot of action, a lot happens, and the second half is mostly exposition. I think they handled it pretty well actually. They cut some of the boring battle scenes, which I was so grateful for, but some of the battle scenes that have a lot of exposition in them they managed to stage in a really interesting way.
I did notice that a few lines were given to, or condensed into, one character instead of multiple characters. Some of the monologues were performed with the action actually happening behind them (like what they were talking about), which is quite cinematic. I really enjoyed that.
The other thing that's really tricky about staging Macbeth is that it's got lots of really fast scenes. When you stage this in a more contemporary way that gets very difficult because then you've got all these scene changes and that becomes very tricky. I really liked the choice that they made with the set. They were inspired by Shakespeare's Globe and kept it very, very simple. They had these two trees, kind've where the pillars were, set further back than they would be in Shakespeare's Globe. It wasn't exactly the same, the stage is a different shape and the balcony is a different shape, but it was inspired by the original Globe Theatre. It was really cool to see those stylistic influences and I think the two pillars that turned into trees were really especially cool.
I read in the program that the set was supposed to be mostly black and white and shades of grey. The stage was wooden which I just thought was gorgeous, very rustic, which works very well with a medieval castle. There were the black trees, but I didn't see any white set pieces. Maybe I missed it. There was quite a lot of shades and white and black in the costumes so I can see how that worked into the dark, dank atmosphere.
The costumes were absolutely gorgeous. They were so lush, again inspired by a more Elizabethan style with some medieval influences, and really beautiful. Not distractingly beautiful because sometimes it can be all about the costumes. It wasn't that. They felt really solid, really earthy, really perfect for the setting. Especially the coronation scene. The difference between the noblemen and the king’s and queen’s costumes were really cool. I really liked it. Really stunning attention to detail. And the fabrics!
The sound effects were really cool too. I read in the program that apparently some of the characters are supposed to have themes, like different thematic sounds for different characters. I didn't notice that at all. I wish I could watch it again, just listening for the sound, because I was concentrating on other things. There was a lot of drum. I think it was all drums, but there was one particular drum that really sounded like in the olden days they would make thunder by shaking a sheet of metal or something. It sounded like that. I just thought those little touches, those little nods to a more Elizabethan way of doing things, I really appreciated as a Shakespeare geek myself. I don't know how much other people got out of them but I thought it was really cool.
This actually was the least “shouty” Bard on the Beach I think I've probably ever seen. The actors were wearing microphones, which definitely helps. The first scene or two I was a little bit worried. They are scenes between soldiers, so you can understand how they might be a little bit over-volume. Some of the actors understood how to project in a way that was supported more than others. I could hear the damage in some of the actors voices. But it really wasn't necessary. And that was a lovely thing that it wasn't necessary. There was this beautiful whispering scene when Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are plotting, which was really done at a whispering level. We could all hear it, so the microphones really do work. I encourage actors to enjoy that a little bit more and to only be excessively loud when a scene calls for it. Not because the space is really large. You have a microphone, that's what it's there for. It's to support you so that you don't have to blow out your voice. Some of the actors managed that a little bit better than others. Lady Macbeth wasn't one of the people who was shouting all the way through, but there were a couple of scenes where she was really hysterical and even that you could hear the toll on her voice. By the end of the show her voice sounded different than it did at the beginning.
Macbeth is played by Ben Carlson and Lady Macbeth is played by Moya O'Connell. They both had very strong performances. Very well cast. Some scenes much stronger than others. I certainly had favourite scenes and I felt like, watching the actors, you could tell which their favourite scenes were: they were the ones they gave all of their energy and all of their passion to. And there were a couple of other scenes that maybe weren't paid attention to as much as they could have been. But overall they were really strong. It's a very “heavy lifting” play and I think they did a great job. My least favourite scene I think between the Macbeths was probably the banquet scene. It didn't quite work for me. That is a very tricky scene to do. I just didn't believe that anyone would still listen to him as king after that amazing freak-out.
The other person that I absolutely adored was Andrew Wheeler as MacDuff. Again there were a couple of, it wasn't even scenes, there were a couple of lines that I was like "ooh that didn't really land perfectly”. But oh my gosh! His full emotional commitment! There's a scene right near the end where he's being told about the fate of his wife and his children. It comes off of a rather boring scene with Malcom, it's my least favourite scene, I'm sorry. Lots of exposition again, and that didn't quite fit for me. But then going into that emotional scene where he finds out about his wife and kids. It was riveting! I think there were three or four other people on stage and, even when he wasn't speaking, I was just watching him because he was so full and so in it.
Also Macbeth when he hears about Lady Macbeth's death. I feel like all the revelations about death scenes were really good. Lady Macbeth just killed the final scene where she's washing her hands in the dreamlike state. That was absolutely fantastic. The witches were really fantastic. I quite enjoyed them. It was kind've a "Polanski" feel. I don't know if you've seen Roman Polanski’s Macbeth. There was a really gritty, really dirty feeling to the witches and I felt a strong influence of that in this portrayal of the witches. The beard line didn't quite work for me. They didn't have beards so it didn't make sense. But overall I felt like they really worked within the scene. They were real and gritty. Sometimes people go a little bit too far into the ethereal with the witches and make them more like fairies. I liked this more earthy interpretation. I thought the ladies who did the witches did a great job.
As someone who knows the play really well, my attention did wander once or twice, especially in scenes that I know really well that I know I don't connect to. But overall I think this was actually probably the best production of Macbeth I've ever seen. It's a really tricky play to stage. There's just so many logistical issues. There's that whole "all the action happens at the beginning” thing, and it's tricky to get the nuance and to really relate to the characters. I felt like they did a really strong job of weaving all of that together. There were moments where it was a bit much, but there were a lot of moments of subtlety and a lot of moments of depth of feeling. Overall I think it was a really strong production of Macbeth.
It's running until 13 September down at Vanier Park, Bard on the Beach.
If you do get a chance to see Macbeth, please leave your comments below. I'd love to hear what you thought of it. There were lots of moments that I didn't mention just because of time, so I'd love to hear what your favourite bits were, what you thought about certain interpretations of the script. I will see you next time.
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