Review: Macbeth at Theatre UBC
Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s most frequently staged works. In Vancouver alone, we will be treated to two productions this year- one by Theatre UBC and one by Bard on the Beach (in a funny coincidence, their marketing features Macbeth and Lady M in near identical poses). The elements that make it such a popular choice are readily apparent, it is a compelling tale that is chock full of action, treachery, and supernatural elements. In Theatre UBC’s interpretation, the violent and paranormal aspects are given full rein, resulting in a stylish and fresh vision of the play.
Macbeth tells the story of a Scottish warrior who, following a victorious battle, encounters three witches who prophesize that he will be king. Goaded by his power-hungry wife, Macbeth murders Duncan, the current king, and claims his crown. The newly crowned Macbeth quickly becomes a tyrant, ruthlessly killing all who might threaten his reign. This power comes at great personal cost, as Macbeth’s faculties are laid waste by madness and haunting visions. His downfall ultimately comes at the hands of Macduff, who in doing so avenges his murdered wife and children and re-establish Duncan’s son on the throne.
Theatre UBC’s work is carried by a strong cast of young performers, including Alexander Keurvorst’s grim, stalwart Macbeth; Christine Bortolin’s sensuous, plotting Lady Macbeth; and Mitch Hookey’s fiery, purposeful Macduff.
Productions of Macbeth generally fall into one of two categories based on their treatment of the play’s supernatural elements. In one, the witches are instigators who simply set Macbeth in motion: they offer tantalizing prophecy, but ultimately only set Macbeth’s dark actions and deeds in motion. In such productions, Macbeth is a weak-willed human, corrupted by temptation and ambition, who brings his fate upon himself.
In the second, Macbeth is a pawn of supernatural forces; his transformation into a monster and subsequent downfall are the inevitable consequences of the witches’ manipulations. Theatre UBC ventures further into this second category than many productions dare to go.
Shakespeare’s play opens on the aftermath of a great battle in which Duncan’s forces, including a heroic Macbeth, overcome traitorous foes. In Director Patrick New’s staging, however, our play opens with the battle itself: a red lit, slow motion pandemonium of swinging broadswords, slicing halberds, and tumbling bodies. The scene culminates with Macbeth severing his enemy’s head and raising it victoriously. Weaving amongst the melee are the witches- three angular figures clad in clinging, floor length dresses of white, crimson, and black (the later of which has twisting horns rising from the shoulders).
Played by Tracy Schut, Georgia Beaty, and Melanie Reich, the trio would be better described as demons than witches, if using popular culture’s current conceptions of the two creatures. Every aspect of their staging is calculated to establish them as sinister, otherworldly beings. The three move stiffly and unnaturally, their terse gestures punctuated by sharp, sibilant intakes of breath. Their voices are amplified with reverb, seeming to call out from some great chasm.
In a unconventional choice that drastically changes their significance, New has given some of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s lines to the witches. In early speeches, when characters wrestle with moral choices, the evil path is voiced by a nearby witch, mimicking the character’s body language. The audience may determine whether the witches are merely representing dark urges, or if the Macbeths are in some way possessed by these supernatural beings.
Vanessa Imeson’s costume designs also breathe freshness into the production. Using historic inspiration, she creates a cool, edgy vision of the characters that one might expect to see in a video game or comic book adaptation. This fits nicely with Patrick New’s emphasis on the story’s violent and supernatural elements. The atmosphere also benefits from Andrew Douglas’ original bagpipe score, performed live by Aidan Cave and Carraig New.
From its passionate cast to its edgy aesthetic, Theatre UBC’s Macbeth is brimming with youth, vigour, and the special excitement that happens when emerging talent get their hands on Shakespeare’s great words.
Macbeth runs until March 31 at the Frederic Wood Theatre at UBC. Click Here to purchase tickets.