Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   ,

Photo: Andrew Alexander

Photo: Andrew Alexander

The final moment of Bear and Company’s production of Macbeth tells all. That’s when cast members assemble on the stage of the Gladstone Theatre and embrace sunny ways with a beautifully sung choral rendition of the sentimental Skye Boat Song. This as a climax to one of the bloodiest plays in the Shakespearean repertoire? Ironically, the lyrical musical interruptions — bizarre though they be — provide the evening with its best performed moments. Unfortunately, they have absolutely no relevance to Shakespeare’s blood-soaked tragedy.

Yes, we’re still getting the stuff of nightmares here, but they have nothing to do with the play itself and everything to do with Eleanor Crowder’s haphazard production. It’s an offering which has been on view this past summer in outdoor performances. But its transfer to a proper indoor venue does not sanctify legitimacy. This is not serious Shakespeare. Unless audience members already know the play, it’s doubtful whether they’ll have any idea of what’s going on. And if they do know the play, they may still be bewildered as a result of the cuts made to the text, the failure to bring even the most famous scenes into dramatic focus, and by a largely female cast playing a variety of roles. Stratford threw some gender-neutral casting into its 2016 production
of Breath Of Kings — a move that was the least satisfactory feature of an otherwise outstanding piece of theatre. Those who endorse the practice seem to think they’re making some sort of politically significant statement; others more sensibly may see it as a pointless need to be trendy. Eleanor Crowder’s director’s notes for this Macbeth argue that in the world of the play, women’s power “is clandestine but not pervasive” and that this production plays with that reality.

“Where the Queen’s Men dressed men to play women, we do the reverse.” Hence we have Duncan, the doomed King of Scotland, portrayed, not as a venerable ancient, but by Zoe Georgaras in the manner of a precocious schoolgirl. To be sure, there has been a move to more youth-oriented productions of the Scottish play in recent years, but this casting seems extreme. It ultimately doesn’t convince. That being said, the undeniably talented Georgaras remains the most watchable performer on stage, especially with her amusing cameo as Seyton the complaining porter. But you were also wishing you were instead seeing her in a role that would really suit her — as Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream or as Ariel in The Tempest, a part she has performed elsewhere.

Chris McLeod’s spiritless Macbeth shows limited emotional range, which means there’s no sense of a man ultimately possessed by evil. And this Macbeth has no chemistry whatsoever with the uninteresting Lady Macbeth of Doreen Taylor-Claxton whose handling of the sleepwalking scene is the sort of thing that gives minimalist acting a bad name. Nobody seems to go through any sort of meaningful arc — a problem for a young actor named Daniel Claxton. He plunges dutifully through five different roles — and in the case of Malcolm, he offers glimpses of something more substantial, but again the production denies him the foundations that would allow him to make a credible dramatic journey. One can only applaud Rachel Eugster, an actress attentive to the cadences of Shakespearean verse, for her fortitude in trying to bring off the critical role of Banquo. We can accept her as the world-weary general who becomes one of Macbeth’s victims, but we can’t accept the ludicrously staged murder scene that shuffles her/him off this mortal coil. And again, it’s not Eugster’s fault that her ghostly reappearance in the banquet scene fizzles; it’s Macbeth’s unconvincing response and the pedestrian staging

As for the Weird Sisters, they are weird — but not in the way Shakespeare envisaged. They do dance around a supposedly sinister crimson circle, but less like witches than giggling adolescents cavorting around a maypole. Even when they get into the “double double toil and trouble” business, they make it sound like some kind of adolescent lark. And when they run cackling into the darkness, can we really take them seriously?

The most charitable verdict on this production might be that it’s a failed attempt at parody. Certainly, there’s little evidence that it acknowledges the play’s bloody beating heart  — or, as director Peter Hall once expressed it, “the way evil breeds evil, blood breeds blood, badness breeds badness . . . .” Or perhaps it might justify its existence as a drama-school exercise for a non-paying audience. Sadly, this Macbeth has loftier pretensions.

Macbeth by William Shakespeare
A Bear & Co Production
Gladstone Theatre to Oct. 1

Eleanor Crowder: Director
Rachel Eugster: Music
David Magladry: Lighting
Daniel Claxton: Sound
Kathryn Racine: Costumes

Daniel Claxton: Malcolm, Fleance, Murderer 2, Young MacDuff, Thane
Rachel Eugster: Banquo, Lady MacDuff, Gentlewoman
Zoe Georgaras: Duncan, Witch 1, Seyton
Chris McLeod: Macbeth
Alexis Scott: Witch 2, MacDuff,Murderer 1
Doreen Taylor-Claxton: Lady Macbeth, Old Siward
Sarah Waisvisz: Witch 3, Ross, Fleance, Doctor, Young Siward