Bard on the Beach's Macbeth is a bold and bloody production
By William Shakespeare. Directed by Miles Potter. A Bard on the Beach production. On the Mainstage on Saturday, June 16. Continues in rep until September 20
Working Macbeth up to murder, one of the three witches says, “Be bloody, bold, and resolute.” Director Miles Potter seems to have taken her advice to heart: in this excellent production, he and his company make big, raw-boned choices, and the great majority of them pay off.
Off the top of the story, that hag and her two pals appear to the warrior nobleman, congealing out of the battlefield fog, and predict that he will become king. Not one to waste time, Macbeth’s lady decides that they should murder the reigning monarch, Duncan, that night as he sleeps in their castle. Macbeth inherits the crown, and to secure it he goes on a murderous spree, spilling the blood of his friend Banquo as well as the innocent Lady Macduff and her children.
Playing Lady Macbeth, Colleen Wheeler is an androgynous force of nature, a dark and frightening storm. When she conjures with the words “Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,” the deep fierceness of her whisper makes the blood run cold. Again and again, Wheeler’s line readings feel both surprising and inevitable; I’ve never heard “Leave all the rest to me” delivered with such cold murderousness.
At first, I found Bob Frazer’s Macbeth mannered by comparison. As happens with other actors in this mounting, it sometimes feels like he’s making a meal of every word: considering the murder of Duncan, he wonders if pity “shall blow the. Horrid. Deed. In every eye that. Tears. Shall drown the wind.”
But Frazer is soon making effective choices. When his Macbeth says that he thinks he heard a voice cry “Sleep no more! Macbeth doth murder sleep,” Frazer draws the lines out long and high, in full horror-movie creepiness—and it works. And there’s monumental power in the deluded bravery of his final scenes: “I have almost forgot the taste of fears.”
One of the great satisfactions to be had from Potter’s direction is the clarity with which he charts the relationship between Lord and Lady M. I’ve never seen the moment played like this before, but, in this production, just before Macbeth sets in motion the plot that will end in Banquo’s death, he dismisses his wife, breaking their coalition and sealing their mutual doom.
Potter also stages big set pieces masterfully—notably the appearance of Banquo’s gore-encrusted ghost at a public banquet. The revealing of that ghost and the scene’s startling climactic moment, which I won’t give away, are breath grabbers.
Not everything works. Up-and-comer Anton Lipovetsky plays Duncan’s son Malcolm with such naiveté that the scene in which Malcolm pretends to be debauched in order to test the ethical mettle of Macduff, a potential ally, comes across as absurd rather than nuanced. And dramatizing Macbeth’s vision of Banquo’s children by using mirrors with paintings of faces on them is a good idea only in theory.
But Potter and his company create a compelling world. Crucially, set designer Kevin McAllister closes the back wall of the tent in the first half, allowing for maximum gloom and the full play of Gerald King’s lighting. And composer and sound designer Murray Price adds gorgeous, vital texture: the thumping of hearts, the beating of hooves, the cry of a raven.