Macbeth at Stratford Festival

Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino Rethinks the Scottish Play

By: - Jul 21, 2016

Stratford Festival
By William Shakespeare
Through October 23, 2016

Canada’s great Stratford Festival began its 63rd season with a dazzling week of productions including a re-staged new version of the classic musical, A Chorus Line, a stunning production of the children’s play, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and ending with a new musical based on the beloved film, “Shakespeare In Love.”

But opening night was Shakespeare’s Macbeth presented with no timid wariness about “the Scottish play” but instead a dark, mysterious exploration full of visual and emotional surprises, including a sexy young Macbeth and a terrifying, shifting landscape dominated by the three witches, not the royal killer couple. Stratford’s Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino is clearly the star of the production, directing it where it usually doesn’t go.

I suppose that the wiseguy critic approach to Ian Lake’s Macbeth is to tell him to come back in a decade or two when he looks more like Macbeth than d’Artagnan. But director Cimolino has Lake playing Macbeth throughout as a youngish struggling warrior, a man powerfully in love with his wife, and a frustrated ruler more complaining than furiously resisting his waning support and rule toward the end. His “Tomorrow and Tomorrow…” speech therefore is less the usual angry despair and defiance than bitter pique; and his powerful self-defense thereafter is more virile stubbornness than heroic resignation or fury.

Neither Macbeth nor Lady Macbeth here is the controlling force. The witches are. We see them at the very beginning and hear them often. They appear in mysterious physical relation to almost every scene – looking down, hanging in air, even downstage center. They range from vaguely menacing to horrifying and threatening, but they are not funny.

Cimolino’s stated overall theme for this season is “After the Victory.” What do these plays show us, ultimately, about true love, true victory, true defeat? He clearly sees Macbeth as an unusually dark vision. He described the lead couple as one who “destroy themselves, each for the sake of the other. A love story soaked in blood.”

The fights, staged by John Stead, are more theatrical than naturalistic, but they are violent and sometimes powerful. Special effects bring Birnam Wood not only in the branches soldiers carry but also in overhead projections. The endlessly changing stage pictures have a nightmarish beauty. And the overall movement of the play is (no pun intended) bewitching.

Sarah Afful’s Lady Macbeth is more haunted than powerful. Scott Wentworth’s Banquo is almost nightmarishly staged, but his strong voice commands attention, as do Peter Hutt in small appearances, and Joseph Ziegler as a regal Duncan. Brigit Wilson leads the commanding witches with startling intensity. And Michael Blake seems a potent adversary as Macduff – at least in the fight scene. More than usually, Cyrus Lane provides a solo highlight as the drunken Porter, perhaps drawing attention and applause because he interrupts such horrors.

Don’t take friends to the theater to see this Macbeth in order to cheer them up.


Sarah Afful, Rodrigo Bellfuss, Michael Blake, Tim Campbell, David Collins, Decian Cooper, Alexei DeLuca, ljeoma Emesowum, Deidre Gillard-Rowlings, Jessica B. Hill, Peter Hutt, Robert King, John Kirkpatrick, Ian Lake, Cyrus Lane, Jamie Mac, Oliver Neudorf, Sophie Neudorf, Krystin Pellerin, Lanise Antoine Shelley, E.B. Smith, Sanjay Talwar, Brian Tree, Emilio Vieira, Scott Wentworth, Brigit Wilson, Antoine Yared, Joseph Ziegler


Set/Costumes: Julie Fox; Lighting: Michael Walton; Composer: Steven Page; Sound: Thomas Ryder Payne; Fight Director: John Stead; Movement Director: Heidi Strauss