In the entirety of William Shakespeare’s works, Macbeth (Haysam Kadri) and Lady Macbeth (Anna Cummer) are likely the most dysfunctional power couple. And it is all about power with the Macbeths, dominance and royal authority by any means necessary. There are other forces at work, too, in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, forces that stare back from the abyss.
Presented by Vertigo Theatre, The Shakespeare Company and Hit & Myth Productions’ Macbeth conjures wicked suspense through its striking lighting design, direction, and performances.
Directed by Craig Hall, Shakespeare’s Macbeth stages the rise (and fall) of its titular character as prophesied by a trio of witches. Here, the witches are a strange family whose members are a Child (Keelen McCauley), Mother (Julie Orton), and Father (Joel Cochrane). Returning from battle, Macbeth and Banquo (Nathan Schmidt) meet three witches who tell Macbeth that he will climb the ranks until finally becoming king of Scotland. Banquo’s descendants will become kings, the witches prophesy, but he will not. The witches disappear into the night, leaving the two men to wonder what truth, if any, their prophecies carry.
Unlike Hamlet where the main character mopes around until the very end, Macbeth cuts straight to the chase, making it one of Shakespeare’s shortest plays. Like Prince Hamlet, Macbeth is severely troubled by the idea of committing regicide. Lady Macbeth has to not only push her husband to take the crown, but also devise the plan to murder King Duncan (Stephen Hair) in order for him to do so. Macbeth greatly differs from Hamlet in that the play explores what happens when a seemingly good person takes innocent life, rather than focus solely on the act of killing itself. (Maybe if Hamlet hadn’t wrapped up so fast, audiences would have seen a young Prince Hamlet deal with that newly discovered part of himself). Macbeth doesn’t stop at King Duncan, but continues killing anyone who stands in his way, including his friend Banquo. Shakespeare seems to caution that once the threshold is broken, darker sides of a person are released.
Interestingly, Hamlet and Macbeth start off in almost the same way, with the appearance of supernatural forces that guide the (tragic) hero’s journey. While the witches count on Macbeth’s overconfidence to be his downfall, none of that is possible without Lady Macbeth, arguably the play’s main villain. She runs with the idea of Macbeth becoming king. Once Macbeth shows weakness in front of his wife, Lady Macbeth is quick to shame her husband for ‘not being a man’. Here, the director emphasizes that there is a genuine, if intense, love that exists within the relationship, making its corruption by Lady Macbeth even more poignant. Initially, Macbeth acts out of love and obedience to his wife, but then takes a path of his own, causing Lady Macbeth to severely regret her actions.
Speaking about corruption, Set Designer Hanne Loosen’s Scotland has a bit of a wasteland vibe to it with the heavy, brooding fog that fills the stage. The trees that loom overhead in the back hide secrets (and a dead body). Anton de Groot’s lighting design casts the Macbeth residence in hard light for the most part, with some soft light for the good guys like Macduff (Karl Sine). The lighting is very atmospheric and telling about the state of Scotland and the characters on stage. There is a general sense of dread that comes across with the way actors’ faces are shadowed.
What’s refreshing about Kadri’s Macbeth is the humour that the actor brings to the role. It’s welcomed relief from the grimness of the production. The humour works, too, with just how twisted, unhinged, and unpredictable Macbeth becomes near the end. Make no mistake, however, the actor is more than adept at playing the monster Macbeth soon becomes. Kadri delivers a compelling performance that slays, in more ways than one.
Cummer is absolutely enthralling as Lady Macbeth. The emotionally nuanced performance really digs itself deep under the character’s skin to bring out the darkness that lurks inside a seemingly good person. And who better to flesh out that darkness than Cummer, a magnificently articulate actress. Her power over Kadri’s Macbeth is absolute as her words sting like the most venomous snake in the jungle. The sleepwalk scene is made even more interesting by the fact Lady Macbeth’s crushing power turns against her, destroying her in the process.
The production runs 90 minutes, and in that 90 minutes Hall is able to establish a great number of things, particularly the supernatural/occult presence. Since the play is staged during the mid-late 19th century, there are no cauldrons or pointy witch hats, but instead the occult and symbols associated with it. Hall achieves great results with these elements as the supernatural not only feels otherworldly, but also as if it should not be summoned to begin with (like a Ouija board in the attic). Andrew Blizzard’s earth trembling sound design grants the supernatural even more terror.
The Shakespeare Company and Hit & Myth Productions’ Macbeth is a thrilling night at the theatre.
The Shakespeare Company and Hit & Myth Productions’ Macbeth runs March 30 – April 16 at Vertigo Theatre’s The Studio.
For more information about the show, including how to buy tickets, visit: http://www.shakespearecompany.com/current-season/macbeth/