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The Malachites’ Macbeth

I think I’ve probably seen more productions of the Scottish play than of any other Shakespeare play.  At Stratford I saw Maggie Smith play Lady Macbeth, and in a later Stratford production the handwashing scene was played on a starkly-lit stage covered with a large piece of white cloth that the Lady scrunched up in turmoil as she tried to erase the consequences of their actions.  I saw a production at Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan in which the young lead couple had sizzling chemistry, a Theatre Prospero version at the Thousand Faces Festival with Bobbi Goddard playing the Lady and Elliot James playing the title role, and Reneltta Arluk’s Cree adaptation Pawâkan Macbeth, in which the stakes are raised by making Kâwanihot Iskwew (the Lady Macbeth analogue) pregnant and in which Macikosisân (Macbeth) is drawn further into evil as he is possessed by the cannibal spirit Wihtiko.

Last night I saw the Malachite Theatre Collective version at Holy Trinity Anglican Church (playing until Jan 19th, tickets on EventBrite).  It was good and some things about it were great.  Directing choices by Benjamin Blyth had the witches (Monica Maddaford, Jaimi Reese, Kaleigh Richards) pacing near-silently up and down the aisles of the church observing and compelling the action, quietly keening and hissing and breathing like Darth Vader.  They also worked on a spinning wheel, and made a sort of cat’s-cradle with threads to wind up their charms.  Janine Waddell’s fight choreography included a splendid bit where young Fleance (Anna MacAuley) fights off the assassins using some credible martial-arts-type moves.  Banquo (Colin Matty) and Macduff (Sam Jeffrey) were both good, and the Banquo’s-ghost staging was disturbing.

Macbeth (Byron Martin)’s decay in the second half of the play was illustrated by his slumping on a throne too big for him.  I had some difficulty hearing/understanding him, both when he was shouting in this scene and near the start when he is speaking to the witches, to Duncan, and to his allies.   I also struggled to hear a couple of other characters speaking while facing away from the audience and into the choirloft space of the venue.  Lady Macbeth is played by Malachites’ principal Danielle LaRose.  She also directed/designed the music, eerie chanting, drumming, and Norse/Gaelic soundscapes which made hair-raising use of the acoustic properties of the venue space.   I liked the way that Lady Macbeth paced silently with her lantern through several scenes before the doctor and gentlewoman discussed her new tendency to sleepwalk.  I also liked seeing Macduff and Malcolm (Owen Bishop) play chess through what is sometimes a boring exposition of the state of the conflicts.  This production also did a good job of the heart-wrenchingly poignant scene where Lady Macduff (Monica Maddaford) and her child (in this case a daughter, Anna MacAuley) enjoy playful sass while the audience knows the assassins are coming.   Other actors for this production included Bob Greenwood, Dana Luebke, Brennan Campbell, Brann Munro, Naomi Aerlan, and Marie Boston – a big enough company to create the sensation of being surrounded when the soldiers march up the echoing wooden floors between audience pews.  There were a few places where I was confused about who the characters were, trying to figure out if they were double-cast.

Sarah Karpyshin’s set makes good use of the shape and existing furniture of the Holy Trinity sanctuary space, with one brilliant gun-on-the-mantle touch which I will not spoil.   Costumes (Dana Luebke) were simple, fighters in tunics and fur leggings and cloaks, women in simple robes, English soldiers in mail coifs and St George’s Cross tabards familiar from this company’s production of Henry V.

I usually have a hard time being convinced of the title character’s relatively quick transitions in this story from modesty to ambition to desperation, and this production was no exception.  If I went to see it again (I probably don’t have time), I would try to sit closer to the front and listen/watch closely in the early scenes.

If you have time and you like Shakespeare, or sword-and-dagger fighting, or stories of ambition and temptation and everything going wrong, then you should see Macbeth.