Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a fable about how we hear what we like, until it’s too late. The drama is perhaps the Bard’s most concise, bloody; mysterious work. It’s a cogent study of how a person’s latent ambition is teased out by both supernatural and human forces, without any real consideration of the consequences. Viewed politically, it’s a portrait of self-sabotage, something we see a lot of these days…
The plot is simple. A man kills a king in order to grab the throne, and then, is doomed by his own guilt, escalating fear, and imprudent action. The play is also a testament to Shakespeare’s overwhelming influence on the English language. Almost every line in Macbeth is a phrase or expression commonly in use to this day, five centuries later.
Burro’d Theatre in Barrie, Ontario, has given us a stripped down version of the play, and also assigned certain male parts to women, and one role to a dog. Set under the open sky in a large backyard, with a single playing area at one end. We’re surrounded by fence and tall trees, so it feels as if we’re in a forest. The surroundings enhance much of the drama, which contains several outdoor scenes. Entrances and exits come from every direction and we’re caught up in a conspiracy to murder an anointed king.
There was a certain emotional daring in the actors that captivated our attention. The suggested set; and the bits of costuming added to the atmosphere. Music, bells, percussions, drumming all provide powerful ambiance, floating in the air. The sparseness permitted the audience to use its own imagination.
From the start, one is struck by the energy of the actors. I personally am not keen on having females play male parts in Shakespeare. Men and women have different bodies, body language, and voices. The differences are only amplified on the stage. But in this production, set outdoors, and at such a clip, it hardly mattered. The script is shortened to an hour and a half, uninterrupted, so we are viewing a play that sacrifices certain details to expediency. Again, this seems justified as it all seemed to work.
The best role in the play is the trickiest. Lady Macbeth is the power behind her husband, and just as hungry for the throne. Even when she greets him after the opening battle, we know that she’s the boss, and Macbeth is really a servant of her ambition. In the opening scenes, Marissa Caldwell seems too lovely, gossamer, and cautious for the role. But as the play unfolds, her stature grows. As Macbeth begins to cower with the guilt over his treachery, his wife mocks him with a rhetorical slap, “Are you a man?” and the audience bursts into cheering. The Lady has him by his orbs and sceptre.
It’s easy to find imperfections with any low-budget production, but I’m inclined to notice what did succeed here. First of all, 90% of good directing is in casting, finding the right actor for the right part. In this show, the whole cast had the “right look and feel” to convey presence, authority, and foreboding of a kingdom about to fall into turmoil.
Usually, I wince every time I see a Macbeth in which the Witches are dressed in ghoulish costumes, writhing all over the stage, like inmates in an asylum. In this production, “the weird sisters” are quite restrained, draped in soft cloth that has the look of pale stone. Together, they move like haunted dancers, foreshadowing the dark dreams to come.
For this Macbeth, the audience was fully engaged and enthusiastic. I came with a friend who felt the production was “memorable”. There was a certain ambiance and excitement about this event, and all were happy to invest in the moment.
If you missed the original production, it’s coming back for Halloween shows at the handsome Five Points Theatre.
P.S. I’d just like to say Harley Caldwell, Actor/dog as “Fleance”, was extremely handsome.
All photographs by Burke Campbell
Iain Moggach, Marissa Caldwell
Director: Richard Varty
Staged/Production Manager: Lesley Coo
Fight Choreographers: Emily Cully, Iain Moggach
3 Witches: Olivia Everett, Charlene Knapp, Kristen Keller
Duncan: Nancy Chapple Smokler
Malcolm: Stephen Dobby
Ross: Robert Knapp
Macbeth: Iain Moggach
Banquo: Candy Pryce
Lady Macbeth: Marissa Caldwell
Macduff: Heather Dennis
“Fleance” the dog: Harley Caldwell