There’s no denying it: Macbeth is one of my favourite plays. It took me a long time to learn to love it, though, and the reason was that I could never sympathize with anyone but Macduff. I always saw the play as being about one man whose story goes incredibly wrong, but the Theatre Erindale production argues otherwise. This production lifts the text off the page and delivers a Macbeth with lots of power, beauty, and supernatural meddling.
Here, Macbeth is a gorgeous pas de deux between Macbeth (Owen Fawcett) and Lady Macbeth (Hailey Gillis). It is obvious right from the first letter Macbeth sends home how much he depends on his wife and how much love they share. Their murderous plot is intertwined with passion, transforming them from despicable villains into human beings—albeit ambitious ones. The ambition, though, is by no means hard to relate to; everyone knows what it means to really want something. I was so enthralled by the web they spun around themselves that I couldn’t find it in me to dislike either of them. In fact, I almost wanted them to succeed.
I firmly believe that the witches are central to Macbeth. I saw a production in Stratford once that made the trio rather boring, but here they were an integral part of the narrative even when they had no lines. The witches (Hannah Jack, Alex Spyropoulos, and Chiamaka Ugwu) and their queen, Hecate (Claire Sherwood), take no sides in the developing conflict, but they foreknow the outcome. They neither help Macbeth nor harm him, but rather take sadistic pleasure in watching him grapple with what he thinks he knows compared to what is true. In this production, the witches are in it for their own gain.
The imagery in the play is beautiful, shifting through the piece with lyrical continuity. The large moon that dominates the set has lines of white string stretched across it, a theme that reappears with the execution of each of witches’ victims. The witches carry a white ball of thread that measures out each dying character’s lifespan. Also, the painted symbols on the witches’ bodies, which seem to link their supernatural powers, are symbolically echoed on Macbeth’s body. To reinforce this, the witches take it upon themselves to paint Macbeth when he sees the apparitions, marking him as one of their victims before the battle between the Scottish and English.
I was intrigued by the textual choices in terms of the witches’ lines. Their speeches and scenes are known for having been tampered with somewhat extravagantly throughout the years, with directors and companies adding, cutting, and rewriting the witches’ scenes as they see fit. One such addition is a long speech made by Hecate to the witches shortly before they show Macbeth the apparitions. There is a general consensus that this is not Shakespeare’s text, and yet in the context of this performance it works. I think this is because Hecate is a consistent presence, an integral part of the play’s landscape, and often interferes with other scenes.
The production is incredibly faithful to the sound cues in Macbeth, including every owl screech and drum beat. However, some of the cues are a bit abrupt in their execution. For instance, the birdcalls that echo around Duncan’s party as they approach Dunsinane help tremendously to create the atmosphere of the castle with a “pleasant seat”. But they leave off after only a rapid declaration, leaving me to wonder why all the birds were hushed at once.
The costuming is highly effective, creating an aesthetic wonderfully uniform yet varied just enough to distinguish the characters’ individual style. The men wear kilts (though not plaid ones), with white shirts and capes of fur. The kilts are versatile, transforming into more formal attire when the actors bring one side over the shoulder and adorn it with a jewelled pin. The witches wear skirts similar to the men’s kilts, and they can also be converted to make their wearers invisible. They bring the upper layer of the skirt over their heads, draping it across their hair, back, and arms. The only setback is that the skirts in their veil form tend to slip off the witches’ heads.
Theatre Erindale’s Macbeth is a perfect balance of intelligent, tricky playwriting and directing, plain good casting, and solid—though never frivolous—entertainment. Macbeth runs until March 24 at the Erindale Studio Theatre.