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Macbeth at the NAC in Ottawa

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Shakespeare's classic tragedy Macbeth runs at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa through January 26. Resident theatre critic Connie Meng was at the opening night and has our review.

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Connie Meng
Theatre Critic

This is not your grandfather's MACBETH, or even your father's.  Artistic Director Peter Hinton has grabbed the text by the scruff of the neck, shaken out the gothic overtones and revealed a very human story of political power, ambition and ultimate disintegration.  His production, set in 1942, makes us immediately aware that there's a war going on - a fact often forgotten.  The up-dating works beautifully without changing the text, from the subtle resemblance of the Macbeths to Edward VIII and Mrs. Simpson to Malcolm's shy hesitancy and reluctance to take the throne - shades of George VI.  The key here is subtlety.  The ideas resonate, but are never obvious.

Carolyn M. Smith's effective set consists largely of a giant shoji screen wall upstage with many different sizes of doors and ways of opening, and twelve black wooden chairs.  Smaller set pieces appear and disappear in a flash, moved in the dark by some very nippy actors.  Robert Thomson has done a terrific job with the lighting, defining the soliloquies and using low side lights and smoky shafts of light to good dramatic effect.

Miss Smith's costumes are also good, especially the subtle changes in the uniforms.  The sole exception is Lady Macbeth's second dress with its overly wide skirt, but the curtain call addition almost makes up for it.  Sandy Moore's music is excellent and his sound design creative, especially for the witches' scenes.  All the designers have done a bang-up job on the stunning opening sequence that successfully draws us into the world of the play.

With the exception of Macbeth, everyone in this excellent cast doubles, triples, quadruples or in the case of Pierre Brault, who is very entertaining as the Porter, sextuples.  My compliments to the dressers.  The three younger actresses, Katy Grabstas, Hannah Sideris-Hersh and Adrien Pyke, do a fine job in all their roles.

Kate Hurman is effective as Hecate, as are Peter Froehlich and John Koensgan in multiple roles.  I particularly liked Matthew MacFadzean's believable and understated Malcolm.  Todd Duckworth makes a very good Banquo, especially in his scene with Fleance, while Blair Williams gives a strong and multi-layered performance as Macduff.

As Lady Macbeth, Diane D'Aquila begins the play strong, poised and glamorous.  The character believably disintegrates into her powerful sleepwalking scene.  Benedict Campbell gives us a Macbeth of great power and intensity that ebbs and flows with the emotion of the character.  The silence in the theatre during his soliloquies is electric.  Mr. Campbell's Macbeth is a complex human being who, by the final scene, teeters on the edge of madness.

Peter Hinton has put together a physically stunning and dramatically valid production.  On a technical note, Jean-Francois Gagnon has staged one of the best sword fights I've ever seen.  Mr. Hinton's staging is always inventive both in major ways such as his unusual and disturbing handling of the witches and the murderers and in smaller touches like Lady Macbeth's light and the "Tomorrow" soliloquy.  The physical and acting elements come together in a consistent and satisfying whole.  This is an exciting and absorbing production that takes a fresh look at two of Shakespeare's best-known characters.

On a scale of one to five the NAC/Citadel Theatre coproduction of MACBETH gets five Royal Canadian Mounted Police.  For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.

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