Another year, another Macbeth! Readers from last year will remember the memorable production put on by Shakespeare by the Sea with the Strait of Juan de Fuca as the backdrop. Well, yesterday I got a ticket to the preview of Macbeth put on by The Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre at the old Roxy Theatre directed by Brian Richmond! The Roxy Theatre.s a Victoria landmark: for years they would put on the Rocky Horror Picture Show at Halloween. During the rest of the year they would play artsy type movies which catered to the local intelligentsia. At some point, it probably became an underperforming property. While I was still in construction, there were always rumours it would be torn down by the evil developers to make a condo building. That.s what everything downtown these days is turning into. Parking lots, theatres, churches (e.g. where I live), warehouses, and you name it are being all converted into condos. Fortunately for the Roxy, it was bought up by the Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre which converted the silver screen theatre into a live theatre. I was excited since this will have been my first time in the Roxy in many years.
Here.s my ticket!–
Keep in mind, yesterday.s show felt like opening night, but was technically a preview. They offer substantially discounted tickets (along the lines of $20 off) for the first two showings. They.ve done all the dress rehearsals but during the previews they work out the last glitches. I was told it.s a good deal since usually they.re perfect performances. To me, this is live theatre so in a way the preview would even be more exciting with so much more tension in the air!
So, voila, here.s what the venue looks like–
The photo was taken as you enter into the auditorium. You can see that it.s an more intimate setting. The slope down to the stage is fairly steep for a theatre and the stage is raised about four feet off the ground. I sat in row ‘D’, but I think next time I.ll sit in for ‘F’. Row ‘F’ would probably be the best in terms of elevation and proximity to the stage. They had certainly just got everything together, since I think the paint on the stage was still drying! While we were waiting for the show to start, the three witches were playing the role of the three fates: spinning, cutting, and joining the thread of the players’ lives. A nice touch. I.d estimate the crowd on ‘preview’ opening night to be at 70 or so. The usual crowd with a scattering of ten or so younger folk who were eagerly discussing the plays merits outside after the show. And yes, I took the photo before the show started and before they announced no cameras!
I.d never seen the Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre in action before, so wasn.t quite sure what to expect. Well, to my surprise as the show started, Duncan, Malcolm, and the Sergeant are all played by women! The set is quite bare bones and the forces quite minimal in this production. For example, some actresses play 8+ roles! This hearkens back to the days pre-Marolovian theatre in pieces such as Cambises where six men and two boys would take on 38 roles. As far as the set, you can sort of see the drapes at the back of the stage in the photograph. They.re translucent (that.s harder to make out from the photograph) and shadows can be backlit onto them. So for the forest scene, they would project a shadow of leaves and branches onto the fabric. I sort of like the idea of less staging. The imagination fills things out. The multiple role playing I wasn.t quite used to and threw me off a little bit: i.e. what.s Malcolm doing with Banquo, oh no, that.s not Malcolm, she.s actually playing Fleance! That women were playing men further confused me. In their defence, they have little props in their costumes: for example, when Malcolm is Malcolm, he has a little crown. I can sort of understand how nice it is to have actresses play many roles and have them change characters right before your eyes on stage: it makes things go faster! And, as regulars readers know, I like fast! But what.s harder for me to understand is the point they.re trying to make by having women play men.s roles. In fact, I was wondering how Act 4 Scene 3 would play out where you would have Malcolm (as played by a woman) saying: ‘You matrons, and your maids, could not fill up / The cistern of my lust’ and ‘I am yet / Unknown to women’. I don.t think I heard those lines. Were they excised? There is the danger in tragedy of introducing comedy at the wrong moment. The risk is increased by role reversal. I.m sure modern audiences are receptive to things such as this. But to me, perhaps there could have been word in a prologue as to what sort of artistic effect they were aiming for?
Now for the good part: ALL HAIL LADY MACBETH! She was played by Celine Stubel and boy she stole the show! Her Lady Macbeth is dangerously on the edge and desperate for power, all at the same time as being all too fragile. Stubel.s not afraid of taking her voice past its natural registers to prove her impassioned point. The ‘unsex me’ speech was as good as I.ve seen. It made be believe. And she put on a master class in acting: you.re on stage, wave your arms in the air. Contort your body when under strain. When you push someone around, push with some feeling like you meant it! When you speak on stage, really put some oomph into those labials, the ‘p’s and ‘b’s! If you.re truly evil, put some hiss into the ‘s’ sounds! Man I think she was meant for this role because this Lady Macbeth is better than I even imagined her to be! Did I say she was good? Her performance alone was worth the price of admission and more. Too bad Lady Macbeth dies too soon!
Jacob Richmond.s (I wonder if any relation to the director Brian Richmond?) interpretation of Macbeth is one of a subdued man, one who is more ‘done to’ than ‘doing’. As a result, even in the ‘firstlings of my heart’ speech where Macbeth affirms the will to action there is a hint of hesitation. Richmond.s Macbeth is more philosopher than warrior. The ‘is this a dagger I see before me’ scene was particularly well done. In the flexible drapes at the back of the stage, while Macbeth was delivering the lines, daggers were held up tight against the flexible and translucent fabric to give the impression that they were suspended in the air of his thoughts. The ‘tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow’ soliloquy was spoken softly, to give the impression of a broken tyrant. From watching this production, I learned that Macbeth is a challenging role. Most of the time, the other characters are speaking back and forth with other people. Macbeth, on the other hand, spends a lot of the time, it seems, in his thoughts speaking with himself. Without cues from the other actors, Macbeth has really got to make cues for himself as he is not bouncing the dialogue and banter back and forth with the other actors.
I really enjoyed the sparse bare bones setting. More honest for the imagination. For example, the dinner table was represented by a large red cloth held up by the four ‘apparitions’ (who would also dress and undress characters for their role doublings on stage). The one thing I.ve never really seen done convincingly on stage is the scene where Macbeth goes the second time to the witches and sees: ‘A show of eight KINGS, the last with a glass in his hand; BANQUO’S GHOST following’. In this production, Banquo holds up the glass (mirror) sort of towards Macbeth. But why would Macbeth look at his own reflection. But then if Banquo looks at himself in the mirror, it doesn.t quite work either. I.ve heard that in the original production, the glass was held up to King James (who is descended from Banquo) in some sort of fashion where he would see a mise-en-abyme of kings going to ‘the crack of doom’. I.d like to see this staged somehow. As to how, I.m not sure!
Go get your tickets to see Lady Macbeth in action! Stubel in my mind unseats Kate Fleetwood from the 2010 Patrick Stewart Macbeth as my favourite Lady Macbeth. And that.s saying something because the 2010 production was a movie with all a movie.s resources!
So, until next time, I.m Edwin Wong and it was sure a blast to be Doing Melpomene.s Work last night at the Roxy watching Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre.s production of the awe inspiring Macbeth!