Bard on the Beach Macbeth

Bard on the Beach returns for its 29th year with Shakespeare’s emotionally charged The Tragedy of Macbeth as its powerful season opener. The shocking plot of the darkly intense “Scottish Play” is familiar even to those who’ve not studied Shakespeare. 

Macbeth, a heroic Scottish general, is presented with prophesies of grandeur by a coven of witches. When the first of these comes true through no effort of his own, his lusty ambitions grow. Goaded by his ruthless wife, Macbeth murders King Duncan to snatch the crown of Scotland for himself.

Moya O Connell, Ben Carlson
[Moya O Connell, Ben Carlson]

The consequences of their vile deed trigger a cascading bloodbath. As Macbeth is forced to commit more murders to hide his crime, Lady Macbeth descends into madness and Scotland is plunged into an epic civil war.

The play has always stood as a warning against the repercussions of unchecked ambition and the corruption of the moral compass. Most productions dramatize Macbeth’s agonizing tumble from loyal thane to paranoid tyrant and vilify Lady Macbeth as his forceful accomplice. Her resolve is fierce and steadfast as she assumes an unnatural “male” role.

Since cruelty and violence are masculine qualities, she implores evil spirits to “unsex me here” so she may have the compunction to do bloody murder. The abnormal lack of feminine forces hurtles the Macbeths, and the nation, into chaos.
 
Scott Bellis, Craig Erickson
[Scott Bellis, Craig Erickson]

Amid the fervid, eerie and unsettling soundscape of Owen Belton, the trademark nuances of Macbeth’s moral tug-of-war seemed oddly muted in this production. Instead, this Macbeth was a weakly conflicted hero who didn’t need a tremendous amount of prodding from his ambitious wife. In fact, it only took a few jabs at his manhood to convince him to act.

Meanwhile, Lady Macbeth latches onto the murderous scheme as if fulfilling a dutiful purpose. The play had always carried a violent and ominous atmosphere but this rendition is a fatal wasteland of fear and intense loss.

The play’s undertones are reminiscent of the works of Edgar Allan Poe – a disquieting amalgamation of The Tell-Tale Heart and The Raven. Director Chris Abraham, who’s held a Gemini as well as the prestigious Siminovitch Prize, has taken the 2018 Bard production in a slightly different direction.

Nicco Del Rio, Scott Bellis
[Nicco Del Rio, Scott Bellis]

Though hints are scattered throughout the play, the totality cannot be grasped until the end. Once the whole is seen, it is brutal and it is disturbing.

Macbeth opens on Pam Johnson’s organic and imposing set, a tribute to Shakespeare’s original Globe Theatre in 1600’s London.

Dark pillars loom as distorted trees over a two storey solid fortress with weathered wooden double doors. The stage is bare except for a lonely empty cradle. Lady Macbeth enters, dressed in a simple nightgown.

A porter follows shortly afterwards and removes the cradle as Lady Macbeth looks on helplessly. Her bereavement is stark and naked; she has lost a child. Like shadows and ghosts, other characters join her and the three witches appear. They all circle and begin to pound on the floor. Pound and pound and pound — the crescendo of chaos begins!

Nicco Del Rio, Lindsey Angell
[Nicco Del Rio, Lindsey Angell]

Abraham’s production brings focus to Lady Macbeth’s conduct and fuels the moral decline of Macbeth. She’s suffered a devastating loss that’s robbed her of both motherhood and purpose.

When she receives word of her husband’s prophesies, she seizes on these ambitions to give her life meaning again. Moya O’Connell exudes the full range of her character’s agony. Lady Macbeth is ferocious in her boldness yet crushed under the weight of guilt when her actions cannot fill her emptiness.

Ben Carlson plays his Macbeth with intentional anxiety, consumed by loss. He’s failed to protect his babe so he must not fail his grieving wife.

A man teetering on the brink of mania, his own sorrow clouds his reason and judgment once the witches plant the seed of glory in his head. 

Harveen Sandhu, Emma Slipp, Kate Besworth
[Harveen Sandhu, Emma Slipp, Kate Besworth]

The frenzied “weird sisters” played by Emma Slipp, Kate Besworth and Harveen Sandhu are lawless, frightful and mesmerizing. These pathetic, war-ravaged creatures cannot be blamed for evil as they are only Macbeth’s messengers. 

Christine Reimer uses her laudable talents to re-create meticulous wardrobe pieces reminiscent of 1600’s Scotland, utilizing a neutral palette with simple wools and cotton for the servants, fine linens for the gentry and rich velvets for royalty. High boots were a must for muddy highlands!

Abraham’s rendition is a study of a couple on the precipice of anguish. It questions the appalling and abrupt choices made by the grieving and desperate.

Kate Besworth, Ben Carlson
[Kate Besworth, Ben Carlson]

From the outset, the swarming tension is constant and unrelenting. After Duncan’s murder, the porter scene is meant to provide some comic relief, yet the ominous ambiance is sustained amid rolling drums, droning hurdy-gurdys and Gerald King’s supernatural lighting.

Bathed in an icy blue aura, Craig Erickson exudes pure terror as Banquo’s macabre apparition. His eerie grins say more in silence than words will allow. Lady Macbeth’s descent into madness vibrates through the unease of the audience until her demise is flatly announced.

Macbeth, now burdened with the guilt of regicide and the loss of both wife and child, tumbles unfettered into a destructive finale. The accumulated chaos will have its due until the very last moments of the play. This production is truly thrilling entertainment.

Bard on the Beach’s rendition of Macbeth continues on the BMO Mainstage through September 13.    

Photos by Tim Matheson.

About Our Contributor Cora Li

Cora Li

Cora dabbles in arts, technology, food, and travel. She loves that Vancouver offers a vast playground for exploring all of her passions. Cora’s most memorable job to date was working with VANOC during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

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