When shall we three meet again in thunder, lightning, or in rain?
Stratford Festival opened its 2016 season with all the usual red carpet pomp and circumstance. But as soon as the audience settled, the festivities were over and the horror that is Macbeth began.
In today’s movie vernacular, Macbeth would be billed as a thriller-chiller. Fast-paced and filled with horror, this production picks you up, draws you in, spins you through battle and spits you out with Macduff’s victory. Credit goes to Director (and Stratford Festival Artistic Director) Antoni Cimolino for stepping up the timing and making quick scene changes. During one scene change in particular, Banquo is being murdered, and literally, before we know it, we are at a dinner table lit with candelabra.
It offers a brilliant sound and light show: flashes of lightning and loud thunder crashes have the audience jumping in the seats. Sword fights are impressive, making us flinch with each swing.
Macbeth is the story of a power hungry man. This craving for power is set in motion when the three weird witches tell Macbeth that in addition to being Thane of Glamis and then Thane of Cawdor, he will become King of Scotland. Simply put, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth set about to kill anyone who might stand in his way.
This version is set in Scotland in 1040 as Shakespeare intended. The thrust stage is covered in grassy moss, while limbs and vines surround the balcony.
Ian Lane is well-cast as a young Macbeth. He starts as a reasonable man, but soon goes mad with his murderous desire to be King. Lane handles the soliloquies so well, moving through them quickly yet honestly. It seems very natural that he should be talking to himself. He also has just enough reaction when he sees the ghosts haunting him. While he’s obviously terrified and going mad, his actions are believable.
Krystin Pellerin as Lady Macbeth schemes with him, taking to the idea immediately. Her sleepwalking scene is powerful. The couple has excellent onstage chemistry. In one scene, Macbeth, shirtless, sponges off after battle, while Lady Macbeth watches lustily.
The three witches, Brigit Wilson, Deidre Gillard-Rowlings, and Lanise Antoine Shelly, are the most fascinating characters. They are truly frightening, with their crazy eyes, contorted faces and twisted postures, as well as their eerie voices.
They are supported by excellent special effects and make good use of their caldron.
The Porter, played by Cyrus Lane gives the horror show some comic relief. His bawdy actions and naughty jokes give the audience a chance to laugh in the otherwise bloody mess. Lane handles the role well: he’s a tease.
Even the blood spilled in Macbeth looks very real: A far cry from a production of Julius Caesar I saw years ago at the Festival Theatre. When the back-stabbers bent over to dip their hands in Caesar’s blood, they came up with red ribbons dangling from their fingers and the audience laughed. The only noise heard when blood was shed in Macbeth on opening night was the audience’s collective sharp intake of breath.
If you know young people who are convinced they hate Shakespeare, bring them to Macbeth. This production is very similar to the movies that are so popular right now. It’s a horror thriller with fast action, violence, blood, sword fights, treachery…who isn’t going to love it?
Macbeth continues in repertoire until October 23 (Extended to Nov. 5) at the Festival Theatre, Stratford. Tickets are available at the Stratford Festival at 1-800-567-1600, or check www.stratfordfestival.ca
Photo: Michael Blake (left) as Macduff and Ian Lake as Macbeth in Macbeth. Photography by David Hou.
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Antoni Cimolino
Performed by Ian Lake, Krystin Pellerin et al.
Produced by Stratford Festival
Festival Theatre, Stratford
May 30 to October 23, 2016 (Extended to Nov. 5)
Reviewed by Mary Alderson