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Double, double, toil and trouble

by Michael Johnson February 26, 2013
Double, double, toil and trouble

Photo by Eric Chad

On the damp and gloomy moors of the Scottish highlands, generals Macbeth and Banquo are accosted by three witches as they make their way home from battle. The witches foretell that Macbeth will be made King and Banquo’s sons will inherit the throne. The witches vanish and the pair think none too much of their ramblings until the prophecy starts to come true.

Lady Macbeth shares all her husband’s ambition, but none of his misgivings, and when Macbeth arrives home, she convinces him to kill King Duncan that night and blame it on his guards. Upon learning the next morning that Duncan has been slain, his sons, Malcolm and Donalbain, flee to England and Ireland, fearing that they are the assassin’s next target. With no heirs of Duncan to rival him, Macbeth is declared King, an event that does nothing to strengthen his already fragile state of mind. Seeing enemies behind every curtain and challengers under every bed, Macbeth orders the death of Banquo and his son, for the witches had foretold that Banquo’s heirs would form a line of Scottish kings. This marks the beginning of the rapid deterioration of the mental faculties of Macbeth and his wife to the point that they start seeing things that are not truly there.

Director Martin Law’s production of Macbeth for the Players’ Theatre is well executed, but unfortunately lacks vision. Set in post-WWI Europe, the production seeks to use the brutal and chaotic birth of the twentieth century to emphasize the cruelty and violence of Macbeth, as well as the moral depravity and madness of the title characters. While the idea is intriguing, the contextualized setting does little to provide further insight. Contrary to a simplistic popular belief, the twentieth century did not have a monopoly on violence and moral depravity. Simply transplanting a Shakespearean play into another violent chapter of human history does not constitute a search for deeper meaning. More work is needed to achieve this end. Perhaps likening Macbeth to an actual historical monster of the era (read: Stalin) would help to unearth more of the human frailties with which the text is riddled.

The character of Macduff, played by Alex River, was rigid and stern but convincingly emotional upon hearing the news of his family’s death. Matthew Rian Steen inhabited the role of Macbeth well, but at times appeared to be waiting to say his next line rather than listening to his fellow actors and reacting accordingly. Deserving of special note is Annie MacKay’s chilling portrayal of Lady Macbeth, whose lust for power and descent into madness superbly embodied the arc of the tragic hero. Hers was a wonderful performance.

The cast and production team deserve much credit for making the most of the confined space of the Players’ Theatre. Eric Chad’s turntable set design made the scene transitions as engaging as the action and David Costello’s lighting, although simple, was extremely effective at capturing the mood of the scenes.

Although the overall vision lacked depth, the climax fits seamlessly into the context of post-WWI. Macbeth has been told by the witches that he cannot be harmed by a man born of a woman, making him believe himself invincible. However, when he learns that his opponent Macduff was “from his mother’s womb untimely ripped”, meaning he was not born of a woman, Macbeth realizes he is indeed vulnerable to harm. And thus Macbeth becomes the victim of a piece of moral depravity which the twentieth century knows all too well: he neglected to read the fine print.

Macbeth runs Feb. 27, 28 and March 1 and 2 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $6 for students/seniors, $8 for adults. Reserve tickets online at http://ssmu.mcgill.ca/players/reservations or by emailing foh.players@gmail.com

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