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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Macbeth: Where does YOUR moral compass lie?

I love literature and the theatre. This isn't surprising, considering my career choice. And yes, I'm long-winded. Essentially I liked the play and I wrote a lot about it.

In a previous life, I was probably a rat crawling through the streets of London, carrying the bubonic plague and infecting everyone in the squished, cramped public theatres because I was desperately trying to get a glimpse of Shakespeare at work.

I wonder about Shakespeare: was he a crazy, eccentric man who was OCD and had a penchant for the number 10, or just multiples of 2 or 5? What was up with Shakespeare?

I have a few Shakespearean favourites, and Macbeth is at the top of that list. In Fort McMurray, we were recently treated with Aquila Theatre's Macbeth:

Ambition.  Corruption.  Betrayal.  Guilt.  Insanity.  Pride.  Vengeance.

Oh, I love this play. I love the characters. I love the plot. I love the language and the imagery.

It is a classic; any one of us could find ourselves in a situation where we have the opportunity to do something wrong to get something we want: how far would you go? In which direction does your moral compass lie?

"I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself
And falls on th' other." (1.7)

Are you like the Macbeths? Does ambition course through your veins? ... corruption? ... guilt?

I had high hopes for this production, and I was not disappointed. Due to cost, traveling companies often present pared down, bareboards shows and this was no exception. This puts the onus on the entire creative team to keep the audience engaged with the acting and the minimalist design elements. The bare stage itself was a great metaphor for the lives of the Macbeths: an empty, barren wasteland, eventually devoid of trust, beauty and all that is natural.

A Success

Macbeth's words (easily some of my favourites),

"The mind I sway by and the heart I bear
Shall never sag with doubt nor shake with fear." (5.2)

are a far cry from his more humble beginnings. He has made his choices and is standing by them. He is who he is, he has done what he has done and he cannot change the past so he will move forward as the strong soldier for which he was once praised.

Macbeth says he will not shake with fear.

Aquila's promise is to make "The greatest works for the greatest number" ensuring that many will get to see works like Macbeth through their company's tours, etc.

Shakespeare, without fear. Shakespeare, being understood and appreciated by many.

Aquila certainly succeeded in achieving this in Fort McMurray.

The Characters I Adored

Macbeth: Guy Oliver-Watts has a beautiful voice and looks a little bit like an older Heath Ledger. His shaggy hair and basic, military style clothing worked well in portraying him as a real man, not a slickster, Hollywood guy, or shady character.

When Duncan says, "There's no art to find the mind's construction in the face" (1.4), we see how easy it is to fall for a well-presented man, too, because Macbeth initially is not a con-man. He is a hardworking soldier, has always been loyal, and is grateful for Duncan's favour.

It seemed like Watts felt and believed what he was saying, which goes a long way in relating a character like Macbeth to your audience. Having the audience align themselves with you as an actor creates empathy and catharsis in the audience. It makes us care when Macbeth faces his wife's death, even while we hate his cocky attitude.

A couple of times, he almost brought tears to my eyes. By the end, I had witnessed this man win favour, lose friends, align himself with demons, murder his King and friends, love his wife and be hounded mercilessly by her, compromise his beliefs, fall victim to his own faults, and face death.

Oliver-Watts' voice seemed to grow tired and older by the time his wife was dead and he was facing his own mortality. It was as though I had watched Macbeth age in front of me.

By the time I heard "Life's but a walking shadow ... it is a tale / Told by an idiot... Signifying nothing." (5.1), I felt sad for this poor creature in front of me and I wished I could rewind his life, before he had ever taken the advice of his wife to act upon his own vaulting ambition.

God, I love Macbeth, both the character and the play.

Lady Macbeth: Rebecca Reaney did a fabulous job of portraying the Lady.

I have a soft spot for this character: I don't buy into the 'she made me do it' philosophy, and as much as I want to scream at her to leave her husband alone, I understand the ambition and desire to have more than what you have, I understand wanting promises made to be promises kept, and I understand guilt driving you nuts. Hey, I was raised Catholic.

Her guilt gets the better of her before long, and she questions herself even during sleep, "What need we fear who knows it when none can call our power to account?" (5.1)

Who is the Lady trying to convince - herself? ... her husband? ... us? This point of the play was at once sad and vindicating. Lady Macbeth has come this far, she is beside herself with the guilt of what she has done and the unhappiness of the instability of her place in the world. Looking over your shoulder for someone to stab you in the back is really no way to live.

Reaney did a great job at portraying Lady M as a multi-faceted human.

Duncan / Macduff: Kern Falconer: Wow. This guy brought tears to my eyes. I felt his pain. During the Macduff / Malcolm exchange

"Fit to govern?
No, not to live.
... Thy royal father
Was a most sainted king; the queen that bore thee,
Oftener upon her knees than on her feet,
Died every day she lived." (4.3)

Macduff's physical reaction to Malcolm's claims of a terrible personality was heartbreaking. In addition, when Macduff claimed he has to feel the deaths of his family as a man (4.3), I wanted to throw up. The realization of just how far Macbeth had gone to destroy the people of Scotland was unbelievable and infuriating. The emotions that ran over his face were overwhelming.

Colour & Costume

Duncan and Macduff were played by an older-looking man with white hair. Think of white being indicative of purity and goodness. Macduff restoring order as it should be, to the rightful heir, and he is the bright light of the play, just as Duncan was. Same guy playing the roles... making things right...

Lady Macbeth: dressed all in grey for the majority of the scenes, we see her in a bright white nightgown before the action at the beginning of the play (losing a child - the end of her happiness?) and directly after the death of Duncan.

Not only is it a subtle hint to all the people in the castle that she is a 'good' person (white symbolizes good, remember!), it also foreshadows an upward turn of events for her - the Macbeths' fortune is about to rise immensely. She, as Queen, is dressed in black - odd colour for the Queen, isn't it? Like Macbeth and the rest of Scotland, she is displaced, unstable and unsafe. Her current situation means little in this regard, "To be thus is nothing..." (3.1).

I liked that the initial image of Lady M was of her in childbirth. I love that Catholicism was presented so strongly onstage through her, and the only major gold she had was when that crucifix was around her neck. She lost her true worth when she threw away the value she placed in her God.

Macbeth's crown was black despite being called, "the golden round" (1.5)... tarnished in the eyes of the beholder because he wasn't the true king. The Macbeths have dressed themselves in black royal garb, when purple is normally the colour for royalty. Granted, Duncan, too, was dressed in black, but we saw him in the midst of war and he had the white hair happening. We saw Macbeth at a banquet... the all black was a great statement for him: his soul and mind are rotting.

Good Stuff

Keep in mind, I know this play well. This is what good acting does: it opens up the text and makes things new.

Oh, the text is beautiful. There are so many layers.

Macbeth: Read it. See it. Appreciate it. 

And ask yourself, "If I were in their shoes, what would I do?"

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