This past weekend, William Shakespeare’s tragic Macbeth opened at Bard on the Beach. Themes of ambition, murder, and power rule this Scottish play, starting with three witches who foretell of Macbeth’s rise to power, but also that of fellow nobleman Banquo’s descendants. That first foggy, dimly-lit scene sets the mood for a fantastic production that brought Vancouver audiences to a standing ovation on Saturday evening.

As the story plunges further, Lady Macbeth convinces her husband to kill Duncan, King of Scotland, planting the daggers on Duncan’s guards to hide suspicion. Both the King’s sons (Donalbain, played by Kyle Rideout, and Malcolm, played by Anton Lipovetsky) flee the country. Without Malcolm, the chosen heir, Macbeth (Bob Frazer) is crowned king.

Macbeth (Bob Frazer), Banquo (Craig Erikson)
[Macbeth (Bob Frazer), Banquo (Craig Erikson)]

Banquo (Craig Erikson) and his son Fleance (Joseph Gustafson) are the next targets for Macbeth. Banquo gets killed, but Fleance is able to escape, allowing the second prophesy to take shape: Banquo’s descendants to take the throne. Macbeth begins to have visions of Banquo’s ghost, completely disrupting an evening banquet, to the dismay of Lady Macbeth (Colleen Wheeler), who repeatedly offers excuses of his inappropriate behavior to their guests.

Macduff, the Thane of Fife (in a strong performance by Ian Butcher), arrives at the castle for a visit with the king. He discovers what’s happened, and soon heads to England to find Malcolm, hoping to persuade his return.

Macduff (Ian Butcher); Macbeth (Bob Frazer)
[Macduff (Ian Butcher), Macbeth (Bob Frazer)]

As the second act opens, so does the view of English Bay. The backdrop that helped to accentuate the marvelous lighting effects in act one (well done, Gerald King), is now removed, allowing both dusk and nature to join the stage setting. One of the most dramatically-executed scenes of the Bard production is the three witch sisters paying a second visit to Macbeth.

Macbeth and the three witch sisters

Through gorgeous, eerie masks, they warn him with three new prophesies, one of them being to beware Macduff. Knowing that Macduff will most likely bring Malcolm back to claim his kingdom, Macbeth attacks Macduff’s family at their castle, killing his wife and children.

The costumes range from plaid capes to grey, monkish robes, with Lady Macbeth donning a variety of lacy gowns and costumes to accentuate her long, reddish curls.

Macbeth (Bob Frazer), Lady Macbeth (Colleen Wheeler)
[Macbeth (Bob Frazer), Lady Macbeth (Colleen Wheeler)]

The cast moves around the stage with purpose, and all are strong in their roles. There’s such excellent chemistry between Bob Frazer and Colleen Wheeler (who nails this role}, making it a pleasure to watch the two in pivotal scenes together.

The line between reality and fantasy are blurred by Macbeth’s visions, Lady Macbeth’s vivid sleepwalking scenes, and the senseless victims killed, their ghosts appearing on stage towards the end of the second act. The amount of bloodshed for power and ruthless actions make this tale both tantalizing to watch and devastating to witness.

Malcolm (Anton Lipovetsky)
[Malcolm (Anton Lipovetsky)]

After two and a half hours, this classic draws to a close, again with dramatic lighting and sound effects. The stage set (by Kevin McAllister) is decidedly gothic, including two large wooden chairs that recall a church window in their design.

Macbeth is directed by Miles Potter, who offered a passage in the program guide that gave me good food for thought: “With Macbeth and his wife, the experience is much more like making some new friends, and then having to stand helplessly by while watching those friends destroy themselves by falling under the influence of some kind of abuse or drug.”

My own translation: the three sisters are the injection of that drug; the characters play out their destinies under the influence.

Part of Bard on the Beach’s 23rd season, Macbeth continues through September 20 at the custom built BMO Mainstage Theatre tent. Visit the Bard website for tickets and schedule details.

Photos courtesy of David Blue.

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