By William Shakespeare
Directed by Antoni Cimolino
At the Festival Theatre. May 30-October 23, 2016
The Stratford Festival has a perfect record: none of its versions of Macbeth has been successful in coming to terms with Shakespeare’s swiftly paced, blood-curdling tragedy of vaulting ambition. Its Macbeths have been either too much in the yellow leaf (dry and lacking vigour) or unable to combine the anomalies of fierce soldier, conflicted husband, deluded desperado, and rueful philosopher in a single compelling whole. Ian Lake is its latest casualty. Much too young either in experience or technique, he looks and moves less like a soldier than an unsteady sailor who has come upon landfall unexpectedly. His rolling gait (those shoulders seem to have a life of their own) makes him seem like a loiterer near any locale, whether it be Forres, a heath, Inverness, or England, and his verse speaking is hardly choice: it has no vocal distinction, no dramatic weight. Lake recites the soliloquies as if he had consulted Cole’s notes rather than understanding and reacting to their internal truths. His dagger vision is deadly dull because it is delivered without vocal finesse or conviction. He has admirable pecs and abs, however, that come to the fore in his reunion with his youthful Lady Macbeth, a role that also defeats pretty Krystin Pellerin, who looks attractive but who also fails to be convincing in her contact with the spirit world. This duo make something faintly erotic out of their sensual interaction, but the drama goes for little. Pellerin is a dud in the sleepwalking scene in which she seems to be strolling through the verse rather than expressing a virtually kaleidoscopic and deeply disturbing retrospective of her crime. Her high point is a scream rather than a deep-rooted moan, enough to wake the dead or her own self out of its sleepwalking.
Antoni Cimolino, who has had his share of Shakespearean triumphs, has turned the play into a yawner. His production does have useful things: a rugged, darkly austere 11th century Scots setting (Julie Fox); a soundscape (Thomas Ryder Payne) incorporating eerie bird and animal sounds; and a lighting design (Michael Walton) that follows the play’s swift cyclical movement from foul to fair; and veteran actors (Joseph Ziegler as Duncan, Scott Wentworth as Banquo, and Peter Hutt in three different roles, his best being Old Siward) who know how to handle Shakespeare’s meaning in his rhythms. Cimolino invents a striking moment at the banquet, introducing the ghost of Duncan to that of Banquo, but this doesn’t add to the play’s meaning.
The acting deficiencies of the principals and others, however, work against the production. David Collins scores best when he brings savage news to Michael Blake’s Macduff who, however, pales in his devastation. The most startling interpretation (because it is radically wrong) is Cyrus Lane’s as the Porter, played like a bad smart aleck vaudevillian who enjoys his own jokes much too much to be taken seriously as a sinister devil. The rest of the ensemble is sub-standard rep acting, though Sarah Afful makes a poignant, pregnant Lady Macduff, and the Three Witches (Brigit Wilson, Deirdre Gillard-Rowlings, Lanise Antoine Shelley) have their eerie moments in ritualistic witchcraft. In general, the production misses climaxes, and some of the greatest lines pass almost unnoticed. Instead of being blood-curdling, this production is curdled milk.