In a house of ominous expectation, a part of Shakespeare doth depart with a robust take on Macbeth at Theatre on the Bay.
As you enter the theatre, dark and gloomy (apt in tone and spirit for any staging of that Scottish play —yes, say it with me— Macbeth) you're met with a full company pre-set as more of a welcoming glimpse than the Bard himself envisaged as introduction to his celebrated work.
Significant imagery choices are clearly present. The production remains true to that sense of perception throughout as it introduces the themes of ambition, paranormal hedging, treachery, violent crimes, and consequences. These are all precisely highlighted, leaving no room for the audience to feel lost in any possible misrepresentation of character-intent within the greater scheme of the narrative.
Marcel Meyer makes it clear, in emphasis and audacious articulation, what his take on the conflicted yet driven character of Macbeth is. This is especially evident when contrasted with the more measured deliveries presented by the rest of the cast. The difference in rhythm and style is assumed an intentional directional choice.
Providing the enabling force to Macbeth’s ambition, David Viviers effectively draws the audience into the manipulative and mentally destructive journey of Lady Macbeth. His performance is a highlight.
Matthew Baldwin starts off slightly overshadowed by his fellow players, but builds towards a solid performance as the displaced prince Malcolm in conversation with Macduff as he relates to the latter that his family is 'at peace'. Tailyn Ramsamy as Banquo is also notable, showing deference to the text rather than overplaying the theatrical add-ons, which he easily could with the blood works at play.
Stephen Jubber, convincing as King Duncan, loses a sense of presence as Macduff, resulting in the climatic confrontational scene between Macduff and Macbeth coming across as more muted than textually implied.
The puppetry that pops up throughout, along with Jeremy Richard's overplaying of a fool-like porter as party-trick clowning, knocks the macabre wit of Shakespeare's beloved and feared shortest tragedy down in both tone and character. However, the school group that attended on the same night of our viewing appeared to relate strongly to these and other forms of animated theatrical illusions. Such relatability is undoubtedly an important element in light of the fact that Macbeth is Gr 12 (Additional Language) and Gr 11 (English Home Language) set work.
For this reviewer, the abundance of gimmicks in this staging of Macbeth seemed to detract rather than enhance the dramatic power to be found in the telling of the grim tale. The text is expressive enough and should be celebrated as such; it doesn't need slow-motion emphasis and imprecise period-props to announce crucial character development or storyline moments.
That said, the weird and menacing Three Witches unquestionably bring with them ‘toil and trouble’ in a striking fashion, both in costume and presence. Personally, their unearthly hissing and clicking conjure up images of figures in the dark resembling what one could imagine Doctor Who's Silence to sound like if cursed with voice.
Macbeth, so performed by an all-male cast, gives robust expression to the profound political warning that power corrupts until death pulls those who wield it down and apart. Those enticed to see this Shakespeare classic at Theatre on the Bay, before its run ends 1 June 2019, can book tickets online through Computicket.