If Macbeth were a symphony, the rendition currently playing at Bard on the Beach plays only one note.
Director Chris Abraham begins the play with a chorus of screams and, with nowhere to go but up, spins that same emotional tack for three hours. And while a few performances stand out by their comparative subtlety, the overall impression is overwrought to the point of eliciting awkward laughs from the audience.
Macbeth is arguably Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy. A lord is told that he will be king by a group of mysterious witches and, when their predictions begin to come true, throws honour aside in bloodthirsty pursuit of that end.
Throw in a scheming wife, a mortal enemy, and a few battle scenes and you have the makings of a 15th century psychological thriller. But the thrill comes from building tension; a tension that has been wiped away in Abraham’s production.
Among the more successful performances are Jeff Gladstone as Malcolm, who does a wonderful job of grounding moments of the play as the unsure prince. Kayvon Khoshkam’s Porter provides a delightful reprieve, with his physical metamorphosis from the Sergeant to The Porter to the Seyton a standout performance, providing a capable thread of humour. Lindsay Angell’s Lady MacDuff is believably strong until she hits her breaking point, a high point in a production that tries to blend all points together.
Christine Reimer’s costuming is gorgeous, and Pam Johnson’s set is fanciful, yet firm. The lighting from Gerald King provides an otherwise beautiful sense of atmosphere outside of a curious blue spotlight, while Owen Belton’s sound design complicates rather than underscores the text.
This version of Macbeth has all the trappings of a wonderful production: fantastic actors, beautiful costumes, and an incredible set. But while they try, the emotional pitch is set too high, too fast for the audience to ease into this world of war and strife. It starts with a scream and doesn’t stop.
Macbeth by William Shakespeare. Directed by Chris Abraham. A Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival production, on stage at Vanier Park in Vancouver until September 13. Visit bardonthebeach.org for tickets and information.