by Lynn on September 3, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer


Part of Shakespeare in High Park. Directed by Ker Wells. Designed by Lindsay C. Walker. Starring: Hume Baugh, Philipa Domville, Sophie Goulet, Ryan Hollyman, Hugh Thompson.

Produced by Canadian Stage Company in association with YorkUniversity’s Theatre Department. Runs until September 1.

My theatre schedule being as packed as it was, I was only to catch up with Macbeth of the two Shakespeare productions playing in High Park, produced by Canadian Stage Company in association with York University’s Theatre Department. Macbeth played in repertory with The Taming of the Shrew. After Macbeth was rained out on Friday, Aug. 30, that left me only able to see the last performance Sept. 1.

Both Macbeth and The Taming of the Shrew are directed by two graduates of the first MFA Program in Theatre-Stage Direction at York University. Ted Witzel directed The Taming of the Shrew and Ker Wells directed Macbeth. Graduates and undergraduates also worked on the design and performance of many of the major and minor parts along with the professional actors. I’m sure it afforded both graduates and undergraduates valuable experience. I just wish the results were better.

Macbeth is Shakespeare’s tale of blood, ambition and playing with fate. Macbeth has just come from battle and is told by three witches that he will be king “here after,” His fighting colleague Banquo is told that he will be the father of kings. Macbeth and his ambitious wife are impatient for the crown and plan to move things along by killing the present king while he’s a guest in their house, no less. Things go off the rails from there. Macbeth is spooked by the three witches. His wife is spooked by blood and it all ends badly for both of them.

The play has been cut to a brisk 90 minutes but the main elements are there to keep us gripped. Director Ker Wells begins with the company in fighting garb, pants, kilts etc. They face the audience and on cue begin a choreographed running in place, bellowing. This is the battle Macbeth and company are fighting. Gradually soldier after soldier falls away leaving only Macbeth and Banquo still standing. Three of the dead ‘revive,’ cover themselves each with red sheeting and the three witches are created.

Wells has created many interesting visuals besides the ones listed above: Banquo’s ghost appearing from under the table in mist and disappearing that way;  the witches pulling on the banquet tablecloth to reveal a blood red one; using a puppet as one of the witches; having Macbeth be one of the murderers who kills Lady Macduff. The last scene though is mystifying, with Macduff screaming as if crazed, “All hail the king of Scotland repeatedly while a baby cries. Is this supposed to refer back to Macduff’s family being killed? It’s a stretch.

All too often directors go for the concept and the visuals and pay little attention to the actors. That seems to have happened here. I can’t recall the last time I saw so many actors out of their depth as I did with this production of Macbeth. Do they even do Shakespeare performance at YorkUniversity? If the work of the graduate and undergraduate students in this production is any indication, it doesn’t seem so. Why then cast them in a play in which they have no experience or even a sense of the character?

As Macbeth, Hugh Thomson seems strapping and war-like in his kilt and boots, but for the most part he is subdued and one-noted. As Lady Macbeth, Philipa Domville is animated but mannered and stilted in her performance. The sleep-walking scene in particular seems rushed and not heartbreakingly haunted.

The saving grace is Ryan Hollyman as Macduff. He is passionate, in the moment, true and heartbreaking when he learns that his family is dead. That is one hard scene and Hollyman pulls it off with style and grace. I was grateful for his presence in this really disappointing production.

The weather was dicey for the last show. Rain held off for most of the performance but it started to drizzle about 20 minutes before the end. The audience didn’t move. Then it rained a bit steadier. The audience put on hoodies, rain gear etc. but didn’t stop looking at the stage. No one left. The rain let up. The performance finished to rousing cheers.

I’m sure that whoever thought that not having a program in an effort to ‘go green’ was a good idea at the time. Let me tell you, it wasn’t. A big billboard listing the cast and crew placed on the way to the amphitheatre is not a substitute for something in hand with the information we want to know about the production. And not even having a downloadable program listed on the Canadian Stage website is just dumb. Rethink this for next year, please.

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