At Bard on the Beach until Sept. 20
I had no idea war could be so neat and tidy. Mara Gottler’s handsome costumes—grey or brown longcoats with subtly-hued tartan shawls clipped at the shoulder—look as if they’ve just come back from the drycleaners and they stay that way. Are these Scottish warriors, returning war-weary but victorious after putting down a rebellion? Bob Frazer (Macbeth), the hero of the day, hasn’t a hair out of place. The only one who looks like he’s seen action is actor John Murphy, the sergeant who delivers the news of Macbeth’s valor to Duncan, King of Scotland. Murphy’s leg is bandaged and bloody; mysteriously, he limps in every other role—and there are many. I was worried that Murphy had injured himself in one of Nick Harrison’s terrific choreographed battle scenes. But it’s just one of Miles Potter’s directorial choices—some of which don’t make a lot of sense.
The Weird Sisters—looking like fashion plates rather than the wild, cauldron-stirring creatures of the Scottish moors—are not masked when they speak to each other but don masks when they confront Macbeth. Why?
Later, Macbeth is circled by shrouded figures holding large shards of mirror upon which are painted faces—maybe all the faces of those he’s had murdered? It looks good but we know Macbeth doesn’t need mirrors to see himself mired in guilt.
Frazer makes a handsome Macbeth, but his character’s decline into madness comes very quickly thereby stripping away the possibility of us seeing our own potential for wickedness as a parallel to his. In the program’s director’s notes, Potter quotes scholar Lisa Low: “We listen to Macbeth as we listen to the beatings of our own heart... we sense the height and depth of our own evil.” This Macbeth barely pauses before, at the urging of Lady Macbeth (Colleen Wheeler), the height and depth of his evil is fully realized.
Kevin McAllister’s austere, Gothic-looking set is appropriate to the grim nature of the play. In the first half, a faux-granite scrim blocks the view of Vanier park trees and the North Shore mountains. In the second half, the scrim is drawn up and there we see what could be leafy Birnam Wood beyond the set’s arches. Composer/sound designer Murray Price’s heavily percussive score is effective and the bagpipes at the end get the blood coursing.
Frazer and Wheeler are beautifully matched. Potter, like most contemporary directors of Macbeth, emphasizes the sexual excitement between them and uses Lady Macbeth’s assault on Macbeth’s manhood as the spark that sets fire to his ambition. When Frazer runs his tongue from Wheeler’s collarbone up to her chin, we feel the full extent of their attraction. (Whew, it suddenly gets hot and steamy on such a cool evening under the big tent.) Later, when Macbeth rejects her, the groundwork for Lady Macbeth’s suicide is laid. Statuesque Wheeler brings such potency to the role it leaves no doubt that Macbeth will buckle under her demands.
In casting young Anton Lipovetsky, newly graduated from Studio 58 and excellent in The Taming of the Shrew, Potter makes a weak choice for Malcolm, heir to Duncan’s throne. Lipovetsky is a young man with impressive appeal but does not yet have the necessary gravitas to bring the story to a positive, or at least, hopeful conclusion. It’s possible that Potter means to suggest that Scotland will now be led by a sapling of a youth and, consequently, continuing unrest is inevitable. That would make this Macbeth a very different play.