Bard on the Beach's moving Macbeth is bloody good

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      By William Shakespeare. Directed by Chris Abraham. A Bard on the Beach production. At the BMO Mainstage on Sunday, June 17. Continues until September 13

      It’s bloody good. Bard on the Beach kicks off its season with a Macbeth that moves.

      Macbeth is the shortest and one of the most action-packed of Shakespeare’s tragedies. Early in the play, Macbeth encounters three “weird sisters”, or witches, who prophesy that Macbeth will become king and that the children of his fellow soldier Banquo will become kings. Macbeth tells his wife about the prophecy, and when the king, Duncan, comes to their castle as their guest, Lady Macbeth urges her husband to kill him and thereby gain the crown. The murder paves the way for Macbeth’s ascent to the throne, but it unhinges both the new king, whose paranoia compels him to kill his former allies, and his wife.

      “Fair is foul, and foul is fair,” and the commingling of the earthly and hellish realms is established right at the top of director Chris Abraham’s stylish production, as the entire company stands and faces us, then begins banging on the rough wood-plank floor. Swords are drawn, a battle ensues, and everyone leaves the stage except for one grieving woman, who morphs into a laughing Weird Sister as the smoke of hellfire emerges from a trap door in the stage. With their bent backs, thrusting hips, and wild hair, Emma Slipp, Kate Besworth, and Harveen Sandhu bring a feral energy to all the scenes with the witches, underscored by the thunderous drums of Owen Belton’s sound design.

      Bard on the Beach's Macbeth
      Tim Matheson

      Ben Carlson makes every step on Macbeth’s journey—from reluctant ambition through guilt and torment to bitter resignation—convincing, and Moya O’Connell is a steely, determined Lady. Craig Erickson makes the steadfast Banquo a solid foil to Macbeth; his grinning ghost is eerily effective. As Macduff, Andrew Wheeler affectingly conveys a huge range of emotions, from outrage to deep grief.

      Abraham makes full use of Pam Johnson’s spacious set, a bare, barnlike space of rough wood backed by huge doors and an upper level that serves as a balcony or ramparts. The set allows for the play of natural light, enhanced by Gerald King’s design. King’s expressive lighting is especially striking when Macbeth is having visions: in the banquet scene, for instance, King bathes the feast in warm reds while an icy blue spot follows Banquo’s ghostly apparition. And Christine Reimer’s Elizabethan costumes are exquisite, from the Macbeths’ sumptuous royal robe and gown to the tattered rags of the witches.

      The play explores extremes—rags and riches, heaven and hell, darkness and light—and this production gives full expression to both the fair and the foul. All hail Macbeth!

      Moya O'Connell and Ben Carlson in Macbeth.
      David and Emily Cooper