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BWW Review: MACBETH at the Stratford Festival is Frighteningly Great and Greatly Frightening


The Stratford Festival officially opened its 64th Season Monday night with a frighteningly great (and greatly frightening) production of the Scottish Play. This may be the eleventh time that MACBETH has graced the Stratford Festival stage, but this daring production feels fresh and new.

Director Antoni Cimolino brings us what is likely the darkest and grittiest play to grace the Festival Theatre stage in some time. The entire company is phenomenal, and there are moments that will undoubtedly return to audiences in their dreams (or nightmares) when they return home to bed after an evening at the theatre. This writer can personally attest to this. My sleep was restless and that has never happened to me before as the result of a play. From now on, I expect nothing less!

Although the entire ensemble moved and breathed as a well-oiled machine to make this play so exhilarating, I would be remiss not to identify some of the key players whose performances brought the production to a level of excellence. As the titular character, Ian Lake elicits chills-something he has done before at the Stratford Festival in his role as Mortimer in MARY STUART. He is so fantastic as the viciously ambitious Macbeth that this writer would almost be wary of passing him on the street; for fear that some weird sisters may have said something to him about me! Lake masterfully portrays Macbeth's evolution from brave and ambitious, to psychologically vulnerable, to terrifying and tyrannical, to resigned and purposeless. He is a gem in the Crown of the Stratford Festival.

Equally as masterful in her performance, is Krystin Pellerin as Lady Macbeth. Her shift from seemingly ruthless sociopath when speaking with her husband and in soliloquy, to charming hostess whenever she is interacting with guests is absolutely enthralling. Both Lake and Pellerin are able to portray layered villains that the audience can root for-not because deep down, the characters are misunderstood due to fatal flaws, but in fact, the exact opposite. They are simply really great bad guys and they are fun to watch.

This said, another character the audience will certainly root for is Macduff-a truly heroic character portrayed fabulously by Michael Blake. His utter shock and devastation when he learns the fate of his family (portrayed to great effect by Sarah Afful as Lady Macduff and Oliver Neudorf as the precocious Young Macduff) is almost unbearable. His heartbreak transports to the very back of the theatre, and lingers there.

Another highlight in this production is most certainly the trio of Witches, or 'Weird Sisters' portrayed by Brigit Wilson, Deidre Gillard-Rowlings, and Lanise Antoine Shelley. They are captivating and terrifying, and the work of Movement Director, Heidi Strauss accentuates this even further.

Lastly, an acknowledgment must be made to Cyrus Lane as the Scene-stealing Porter. He was intriguing and funny and I will certainly remember the Porter.

The Set design by Julie Fox, Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne, Fight direction by John Stead, Compositions by Steven Page, and Lighting design by Michael Walton, joined by the direction of Mr. Cimolino, contribute to a frightening and supernatural world. The costumes, makeup, and fight sequences are also stellar. The team backstage is clearly as gifted at their craft as the on-stage team.

It should be noted that this production has been dedicated to the memory of renowned actor and director, Brian Bedford, who graced the Festival Stage on numerous occasions. I suspect Mr. Bedford would have been pleased.

From beginning to end, MACBETH is riveting. All audiences will enjoy it-from rabid Shakespeare fans, to people new to the theatre. This is a must see...and I might just have to see it again tomorrow...and tomorrow...and tomorrow.

Photo Credit: Don Dixon

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