Murderously entertaining Macbeth opens Stratford

Ian Lake as Macbeth and Krystin Pellerin as Lady Macbeth. Photography by David Hou.

Ian Lake as Macbeth and Krystin Pellerin as Lady Macbeth. Photography by David Hou

Macbeth
Stratford Festival 2016
Festival Theatre

Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Antoni Cimolino
Approximate running time: 2 hours and 45 minutes (with one 20-minute interval)
May 30-October 23
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Director Antoni Cimolino clearly wanted to launch the Festival’s 2016 season in grand and innovative style boasting a theatric explosion of horrific sights and sounds, a villain motivated by a seething, seemingly unquenchable rage – a production that would leave the Bard in awe.

His breath-taking Macbeth succeeds on all counts and many more, treating the appreciative opening night audience to a night of magnificent theatrical roller coaster action that barely stops during its torrid nearly three-hour race.

Ian Lake’s finely sculpted – both physically and artistically – Scottish general is a delightfully murderous sight to behold while the petite Krystin Pellerin’s hideously calculated cry, “Come you spirits/That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here” demonstrates how her devious Lady Macbeth at times actually outstrips her husband in pure cruelty. A match made in hell.

In contrast to the murderous royal pair is Michael Blake’s stylishly played Macduff, a man of few but well-chosen words, a truly noble character who realizes precisely the right moment-in-time to take action against Macbeth.

Scott Wentworth skillfully captures the multi-faceted Banquo, highlighting his natural intelligence, bravery and military prowess while revealing his growing suspicions about Macbeth and an ambitious streak that ultimately leads to his tragic end. His wife Lady Macduff may be the most human and tragic of the characters, beautifully and subtly portrayed by Sarah Afful.

Devotees of HBO’s Game of Thrones will be thrilled by fight director John Stead’s well-choreographed, fast and furious battle scenes that punctuate the production from the very opening moments thus setting the frantic pace of turmoil, treachery and unquenched personal ambitions.

With such a reliance on the eerie, supernatural tone, particularly prevalent up to the intermission, Cimolino is aided by a crew of gifted individuals that include designer Julie Fox, lighting designer Michael Walton, sound designer Thomas Ryder Payne and movement director Heidi Strauss – all of whom ensuring Macbeth is a spectacle for all the senses.

Then, of course, there are the three gloriously grotesque witches, pivotal characters who refer to each other simply as the weird sisters. It’s their fateful prophecies initially laid out to the Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor and later King that that both lead and mislead Macbeth, essentially the root of his woes.

What a fascinating trio it is, served up with scene-stealing gusto and hideous splendor by Deidre Gillard-Rowlings, Lanise Antoine Shelley and Brigit Payne.

Cimolino and a supremely gifted company serve up one a can’t-miss opening production to Stratford’s 2016 season – strong performances, solid pacing and eye-popping visuals that add up to an intriguing and thoroughly satisfying Macbeth that will chill and keep audiences talking long after the curtains fall. **** stars out of five.

Geoff Dale is a Woodstock-based freelance writer.

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