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Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Macbeth, as it is clearly meant to be

Ian Lake as Macbeth (foreground); Michael Blake as
Macduff (background). Photo by David Hou
Macbeth, by William Shakespeare
Directed by Antoni Cimolino
Designed by Julie Fox, Michael Walton (Lighting), Thomas Ryder Payne (sound)
Featuring Ian Lake, Krystin Pellerin, Michael Blake

Macbeth is probably one of the most often-performed plays in the Shakespeare canon; it’s tale of over-reaching ambition lends itself to modern audiences who hear every day of one or another corrupt politician. But what defines Antoni Cimolino’s production, which opened last night at the Stratford Festival, is not greed and power – this production is quite simply, and quite effectively, a ghost story.

The account of Macbeth’s rise and fall from power should be terrifying; after all, it has witches, demons, bloody ghosts, murder, madness, and woods that walk at night. The word “unnatural” is repeated in various ways in nearly every scene, and that is the story that Mr. Cimolino gives us; a spooky, unnatural tale, full of haunting light and sound effects. Ironically, this is probably the most natural way to tell this story.

Brigit Wilson, Deidre Gillard-Rowlings and Lanise Antoine Shelley
as the Three Witches. Photo by David Hou
The play begins and ends with the witches, performed by Deidre Gillard-Rowlings, Lanise Antoine Shelly and Brigit Wilson. A hag, a shaman and a wild woman, they are an especially ominous trio who act as one; they spin a web and watch who gets caught in it, and one is left with the distinct impression that this is not the first time they’ve amused themselves in this fashion.

In this production the witches web is laid in such a way as to ensnare a man of action, and that is what Ian Lake gives us in his portrayal of Macbeth. His Macbeth is a soldier who leaves the introspection to others; he is not overly tactile (even, notably, with Lady Macbeth), his soliloquys are delivered with deliberate haste, and he is at his most effective when battling his outer demons and enemies. Then, the audience understands why this man has made a career of violence, why he is a formidable soldier, and why men are quick to call him a tyrant.

Kristin Pellerin and Ian Lake as
Lady Macbeth and Macbeth. Photo by
David Hou.
As Lady Macbeth Krystin Pellerin gives us is the perfect mixture of power-lust, deceitfulness and vulnerability. We see a Lady Macbeth who is outwardly sweet to her guests, and who is quietly, scarily corrosive with her husband – though there is very little chemistry to work with there.  Best of all, in the famous ‘sleepwalking’ scene, Ms. Pellerin gives us the portrayal of a women who is staring into the abyss and is utterly incapable of either breaking away or grasping its finality. It is hard to imagine this scene being done any better.

Of the supporting cast, Michael Blake as Macduff continues to impress; he has an aura of authority which gives the ill-fortuned Macduff weight and dignity that this important character often lacks. Scott Wentworth shows what immense experience can bring to a role like Banquo, and points to Antoine Yared for making Malcolm’s odd debate with Macduff nearly intelligible.

Michael Blake as Macduff
Director Antoni Cimolino, who has become renowned for his ability to give his productions a clear vision from start to finish, has not quite closed the circle with this production of Macbeth. He sets up some very excellent frameworks – for instance, his is a very Catholic Scotland, making the dominance of the witches all the more interesting and perilous for the souls therein; and Banquo’s family and the Macbeths are obviously quite close - there are many protective and affectionate hugs and shoulder claps, especially from Banquo’s young son Fleance (Declan Cooper) – making Macbeth’s betrayal all the more despicable. However, the production doesn’t feel as complete, as comprehensive as his past Shakespeare stagings (most notably The Merchant of Venice from two years ago).  That being said, this is still the most authentic version of Macbeth one is ever likely to see.

Macbeth continues in repertory at the Festival Theatre until October 23.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. The play DOES NOT begin with the witches. It begins with a battle scene. Sheesh.

  3. Alison A: Yes, there is a short battle at the top of the production. However the play is framed by the witches - that a battle scene begins the action matters not. ~RLG


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