A creepy production highlighting the unstable power balance in Shakespeare’s classic: The omnipresence of the witches is pitted against Macbeth’s unsettling manipulation and control, all overthrown by Malcolm- and yet still a subversive waits in the wings.
Can I credit “the instruments of darkness” with leading me to this production? I doubt that Mrs Bruton-Lang will appreciate being referred to thus outside her role as one of the three witches, but nonetheless I’m very glad she did. Approaching the Festival Players’ production as both an audience member and student of the text, I found director Jane Durant’s ‘Macbeth’ ominous from the very beginning. The atmosphere of danger projected by the stark and dark set provided an ideal background for the scenes of intrigue, horror, and murder which followed, which suited in particular the portrayals of the “Weird Sisters” and Macbeth himself.
The witches in this production were given a greatly increased role; not confined to two or three scenes, their insidious figures appeared behind the Macbeths at many pivotal moments. Their malevolent influence on proceedings was impossible to ignore, and as such the sense of the occult was far stronger. They became less tangible crones- the “withered and wild” old women who were stereotyped as witches in Shakespeare’s day- and more spirits of malevolence. The banquet scene, for instance, showed their feeding of “false creations” to Macbeth’s eyes and mind. With the greater room given for their characters and the greater influence they had in the play, a disturbing question was posed: What did the witches seek to gain from this, that led them to “trade and traffic with Macbeth in riddles and affairs of death”? Naturally, this did nothing to soothe the heightening tension as ‘Macbeth’ progressed toward its climax.
Also of note was the fascinating portrayal of Macbeth himself: I am used to reading him as far less understanding of his own nature, a warrior who almost blunders through his first few murders. Jez Malpas played a Macbeth who seemed to know what he might become before he assassinates Duncan; he showed a man who is aware of his own power and capabilities for violence. Not only was this intriguing and frightening, it worked very well with directorial decisions to not show the bloody dagger, butchered ghosts, and horrifying apparitions with which Shakespeare liberally sprinkles his play, as the psychological torment of Macbeth (as opposed to the presence of real ghosts) was played up, and served to draw the audience ever deeper into the turmoil of this dangerous man’s mind. -“Full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife!” This was aided by the power with which he delivered such speeches as “Is this a dagger which I see before me?” and “Blood hath been shed ere now”.
The fight between Macbeth’s impulsions under the influence of the witches and his wife’s more cold-hearted execution of murderous plans, joined by Malcolm’s force in the second act, combined to produce a play of total uncertainty and insecurity. Macbeth, secure neither on his throne or in his mind, faced Macduff in a truly dramatic and well-directed final showdown- but even with the very conclusion of the play, the audience was left with one last plot twist, and a total lack of resolution: a new threat to the just re-established order of Scotland. The question posed throughout of where the power lies made this production a fascinating watch.