I have a confession to make: I’ve never read the Scottish play and, somehow, I’ve never seen a production. Shame on me, but it left me in an unusual position of being able to see if the Bell Shakespeare production really tells the story. All I knew was it’s the one about the power mad couple and witches, and, being a Shakespeare tragedy, most people die.
It’s unusual to see a professional telling of Shakespeare that doesn’t assume a basic knowledge of the text and focuses its telling on interpretation and originality.
The most comprehensive interpretation of the text is Anna Cordingly’s design that feels like a slab of cold rough Scottish highlands, where cardigans are a must, with a mirror ceiling that brings the magic and threat into the world the Macbeths think they can control. And Kate Mulvany’s lady Macbeth is the most complex and fascinating person in it.
Peter Evans direction brings some original moments (I’m not THAT unfamiliar with it), but it’s almost monotone, even Dan Speilman’s Macbeth. Our beloved Bard wrote the best stories ever, but if he were writing today, it’d be suggested that he get more of the action onstage and maybe spend a bit less time in the character’s heads. Shakespeare tellings that sing are directed like a piece of music is conducted. The dense and difficult text is beautiful to read, but it can’t be relied on to tell the story on a stage. Shakespeare is about tone and rhythm and dissonance; it’s like opera without the music.
It’s clear that the terrific cast have worked on the nitty gritty of their characters (and probably improvised Macbeth and Banquo at the pub toasting Fleance’s birth at the pub), but this production loses the vastness of the overall picture and the telling of the story is flat.
Come interval, I had to read the synopsis and ask who was the dude in the blue jumper with the beard. It was Malcolm, and I thought Fleance was a witch.