Amidst a throng of lost, bored and immature teenagers, Aden and I attending the second preview showing of this season’s production of Macbeth at the Stratford Festival. Veteran actor of stage and screen Colm Feore (who the kids, at different times, delighted in recognizing him from Chronicles of Riddick and 24) was in the title role of the Bard’s infamous Scottish play.
The “setting” for the play was not 11th century Scotland, however, but approximately the 1990s in Africa, an attempt at mirroring the tumultuous nature of the vastly disparate regions. There passages of the play, however, remained unchanged creating a difficult juxtaposition of talk of Scotland, Ireland and England and having the visual presence of modern-day armaments, African military uniforms and traditional dress.
The visual presentation was, point blank, audacious, with pyrotechnical gunfire and explosions, “soldiers” repelling from a “helicopter” in the rafters, at different times a machine gun, dead bodies and a jeep provided grim, war-like setting on the stage, while a canopied bed, a banquet table, or an office space adorned with numerous monitors would elsewise provide scene — all minimalist, but effective and attention getting in its bombast.
The acting was varied, from superb to ham-fisted, rock steady, to shaky and uncertain. Many of the performers are new to the Stratford stage (a wonderful stage it is, providing a dynamic effect a the banquet scene where Banquo’s murdered and bloody spirit appears and disappears with beautiful slight of hand) and I can imagine that dealing with some of the more explosive elements of the production are nerve wrecking.
The lighting was, actually, one of the best aspects of the play, and as usual the Festival theatre has some pretty awesome acoustics.
Since I haven’t studied Shakespeare and my familiarity with the Scottish play is limited to the James McEvoy ShakespeaRE-told (see “all new #55″) modernization, I found the language barrier especially difficult (oddly enough I didn’t have as much a problem with Coriolanus in ‘06). The fact that Macbeth is well stocked in characters who come to prominence at different times in the play also makes for a challenge, as the Bard wasn’t terribly adept at identifying or re-introducing his characters early in scenes (leading to, late in some scenes, or entire scenes later, the cluing in of “Oh that’s Duncan’s son!” or “Oh, that was MacDuff’s family!”). This presentation, as well, layered the scenes to move the performance along, faster, scenes collapsed upon one another, once again, the lighting effectively sorting it out.
That they don’t tweak the script to match the setting, I understand, but I don’t like it. Despite it’s visceral visual component, it seems that this presentation is more for English majors and theatre enthusiasts than the layperson. A Video interview with the director and Feore actually confirms this.