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MURKY MACBETH ELICITS STANDING OVATION AT CANADA’S STRATFORD FESTIVAL

Review Author: Jim Volz [mail]
Production: MACBETH (2016, Stratford Festival of Canada, Canada)
Review date: 23 August, 2016

MURKY MACBETH ELICITS STANDING
OVATION AT CANADA’S STRATFORD FESTIVAL

It’s a gloriously murky, shadowy and dusky 11th century setting for Macbeth and Canada’s Stratford Festival designer Julie Fox’s compact, complex set almost steals the show. Fortunately, director Antoni Cimolino knows how to take full advantage of his cast and entire design team and commands an always expected, seldom fulfilled vibrant, streamlined story of usurpation, guilt, madness and revenge that provoked a quick standing ovation and audience cheers in the Festival Theatre.

It’s a clear telling of Duncan’s murder, the Macbeths’ plotting, Macduff’s revenge and the country’s triumph over evil tyranny but it’s not an unblemished production despite the exquisite scene transitions, startling special effects and chilling sound designs by composer Steven Page and designer Thomas Ryder Payne.

From the very beginning of the show, there’s a much too relaxed sense of vocal energy and physical dynamism that one would expect from a recently battle-tested, adrenaline-charged Macbeth and Banquo. The three witches (eerily and forcefully rendered by Brigit Wilson, Lanise Antoine Shelley and Deidre Gillard-Rowlings), do their part to set the two warriors on their prophetic path of doom but neither Macbeth or Banquo seem to seize the startling predictions of great fortune with the gravity and/or exhilaration that one might suspect (even when the Thane of Cawdor prophesy is almost instantly fulfilled). Allowing for various directorial or actor interpretations, this is just one example of a number of moments in the show where a key actor’s vocal depth, dynamics, tone or muted force slows the wild, reckless and maddening actions of the play. In other moments in the expansive 1800-seat Festival Theatre, characters turn upstage or put their faces to the stage floor without increasing volume (often making their lines or speeches indecipherable).

Still, the individual crafting of scenes is stellar. The slaying of Macduff’s family is inspired in its simplicity and horror as is the ambush of Banquo and the escape of Fleance. The director and actors take their time with the more thoughtful scenes involving the plotting of the Macbeths, the revelation of the slaughter of Banquo’s family and Malcolm’s transformation from exiled suspect to ruler (solidly played by Antoine Yared). This sets the stage for the rapid-fire pace of the march of Birnam Wood on Dunsinane and the final, well-lit, cut-and chase denouement of the “invincible” Macbeth.

Ian Lake’s Macbeth is solid but often lacking the fire and in-the-moment sense of surprise or awe that communing with the supernatural usually inspires. Krystin Pellerin’s Lady Macbeth captures the energy but lacks the nuance that connects Macbeth’s initial missive with her intricate and abrupt turn to the dark side. Michael Blake’s Macduff is earthy and fierce and Sara Afful’s Lady Macduff is playful and heartbreaking in the wonderfully staged murderous ambush. Scott Wentworth’s Banquo is honest and on target and his wandering in and out of the banquet scene is accomplished with clarity and convincing authority.

This is a strong company and a lavish production dedicated to longtime Stratford actor and director Brian Bedford. Michael Walton’s lighting design is sinister and bold, composer Steven Page and sound designer Thomas Ryder Payne create splendid aural surroundings for the play’s most shocking moments and fight director John Stead and movement director Heidi Strauss keep the pacing frenetic and fraught with peril when called on. The rousing final confrontation fight by Macbeth (Ian Lake) and Macduff (Michael Blake) is handled with confidence. The production plays through October 23 in the Festival Theatre.

Jim Volz, Editor, Shakespeare Theatre Association’s quarto
Member, American Theatre Critics Association
ISE Performance Chronicle

Permanent link to full entry 07:50:58 pm. Categories: Stage Performances  

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