Macbeth began just outside the Isabel Bader Centre with a firelight fight scene that burned brightly against the inky night sky.
Lit by burning torches and glowing yellow lights, the cast twirled swords daringly in the patio of the Isabel as they began Shakespeare’s epic tale of ambition and murder.
From start to finish, the Queen’s School of Drama and Music’s Winter Major Macbeth is a feat of design and character acting. The play’s energy and soul comes from its precise direction, which provided a good balance of ensemble work and individual performance.
This particular production is different than most. Director Kim Renders, a drama professor, took a gender-blind casting approach, which resulted in every character other than the Witches being played by female actors.
When I asked about how they approached playing traditionally male roles, Heather Abrams, who played Donalbain and Young Siward, said they never really focused on the gender identity of the characters.
“It stopped feeling like we were playing guys. It stopped feeling like we were dudes,” she said. “It was just like, why can’t this person just be a person?”
Leading roles in theatre are usually written for male actors, especially when it comes to plays considered classics such as Shakespeare’s works. By ignoring traditional gender roles, the production broke through the gender barriers that make theatre less accessible to women.
“When I was backstage today at the end of the show, all I was thinking was how normal it feels to have all of these girls playing these roles, and I was trying to picture Macduff as a man — because I was listening to Hannah [Komlodi] doing her thing — and I couldn’t,” said Pascale Behrman, ArtSci ’17, who plays Ross in the show.
The show never gave the impression of female actors playing men. There’s no cross-dressing, comedic deepening of voices or drawn-on facial hair. They’re women playing characters that are canonically men. The gender-blind approach helped the production focus on Shakespeare’s themes of ambition, loss and the dichotomy between free will and fate.
Hannah Komlodi and Tess Richards, both ArtSci ’16, — who play Macduff and Macbeth, respectively — are perhaps the most riveting parts of the show.
In Act IV, Malcolm tells Macduff to “dispute it like a man” after he hears that his entire family has been brutally slaughtered.
“But I must also feel it as a man,” Macduff says in response. Komlodi’s delivery of the line was heart-wrenching and striking. Seeing the stoic Macduff fall to the news of his family’s death was a real moment of
Tess Richards’s Macbeth, however, was the true driving force of the show. Standing tall and regal, with lips red like the metaphorical blood on her hands, Richards’ performance is riveting. Macbeth isn’t a light role, but Richards maneuvers Shakespeare’s difficult text so it doesn’t feel like you’re sitting through a Shakespeare play.
Macbeth’s design team also seemed to take a leaf out of George Miller’s book, as many of the costumes and set were reminiscent of Mad Max: Fury Road.
The costumes, designed by Jillian Wakarchuk, were especially intriguing: they made the characters look like they belonged to a dystopian biker gang.
One drawback, however, was the choice not to use the patio for any scene other than the prologue’s fight sequence. After the prologue, the audience and action were moved to the studio theatre, where they remained for the remainder of the show. The director may have missed an opportunity by conducting the epic Macduff-Macbeth fight sequence in the theatre rather than outside — especially because the yellow light outside gave the illusion of lightning flashing overhead.
I was also disappointed to see that very few deaths took place onstage. The majority of the gruesome murders were conducted offstage or in the wings, which downplayed the severity of the play’s violence. I thought this was especially true for the Macduff murders. They’re meant to be a turning point for the audience, but the staging of that particular scene made it lose its dramatic weight.
Macbeth is infamous for being the most violent of Shakespeare’s plays. Shielding the audience from the violence felt like putting a hand in front of a child’s eyes during a scary movie. More specifically, the end portion of the Macduff-Macbeth fight scene was anti-climactic in comparison to the way it begins.
In its entirety, Macbeth is a welcome change from the typical productions of the Drama Department. By distancing itself from extravagance — and trying to emulate a Broadway-level show — and focusing on putting on a good show that leaves a lasting impact, Macbeth makes itself a special anomaly.
“It’s thrilling,” Komlodi said. “It’s great to be able to speak words that have meant so much for so long, and speak it in a completely new way.”
It’s that thrill that helps Macbeth achieve what most shows do not — producing a piece of theatre that resonates.
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