Saturday, November 12, 2011

Review: (Toronto) Macbeth

(l-r) Susan Q Wilson, Claire Acott, Annemieke Wade

The Sound and the Furies
Lighting, sound and the Witches thrive in Hart House’s Macbeth
by Laine Newman

From the first moment of Macbeth, the space is electric. Strobe lights burst across the stage in rushes of lightning with shrill noises rising to a crescendo culminating in deafening silence. 

Lightning flashes and the three weird sisters suddenly appear within a mesmerizing set created by Melanie McNeill. Their haunting eerie voices filling the space. While the three witches (played by Susan Q Wilson, Claire Acott and Annemieke Wade) were captivating in their movement and execution of their lines, the occasional use of amplification and echoes was unnecessary, overpowering scenes that didn’t require the extra trappings.

The set, a mix of the fantastical and the natural embodies the witches themselves and Macbeth’s inability to distinguish his delusions and reality.

Throughout the play, these kinds of sound effects and cinematic features (complete with gory imagery of war and violence) decorate a stage that’s booming with the sounds of drums and thunder. The result?  An entertaining, albeit at times distracting show of special effects. Stage manager Keely O’Farrell had a large order to fill, conducting an orchestra of lighting and sound cues throughout the play, and she does so flawlessly. Lighting designer Simon Rossiter and sound designer Jeremy Hutton (who was also the director and fight choreographer) created an impressive spectacle. A spectacle that was thrilling as the show began, but lost its excitement as the same anticipated effects repeated time and time again throughout the two acts. There comes a time when the thrill of the strobe light and white noise wears off and you just start to get a headache. 

Jeremy Hutton’s directorial choices were strong nonetheless. While Shakespeare’s language is difficult for some to grasp, the story is told here through the execution of smoke and mirrors, literally. Each element, a full-bodied character, narrates the story in its own way. The erratic lighting reflects the anticipation of the murders and impending insanity of both Macbeth and his Queen. The soundtrack, almost tribal beating drums, calls the characters to war, foreshadowing the final fight at the conclusion of the play. Shrill noises that echo in the audience’s ears throughout embody the recurring guilt of Macbeth after the murders. The set, a mix of the fantastical and the natural embodies the witches themselves and Macbeth’s inability to distinguish his delusions and reality. All of these characters come alive throughout the play, sometimes effectively, at other times overpoweringly.

The standout performances came from the Witches, the Porter (Michael Mcleister) and Malcolm (played by Chris George), who added emotion, humour and life to the play. 

Overall, the production had all the essentials of a spectacle that will draw an audience in at the top of the show.  Certain elements were stunning to watch the first time around, but the repetition of effects made them lose their charm. In the end, the lighting, set, sound and special effects, along with the opening fight scene and the witches make this show worth seeing.

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