Told round a leaping campfire blaze, Macbeth by Fire is an excellent, spinetingling, ghost story exploring the darkest recesses of the human soul as Macbeth and his twisted wife – the famous “out-damn-spot” Lady Macbeth – go mad with murder.
Actors sweep in and out carrying flaming torches so it’s easy to imagine damp castle walls and the strange, unnatural nights full of scary noises produced by percussionist Dashiell Cole standing offside at an amazing table of found instruments.
On opening night clouds scudded over a half moon adding to the spookiness. ”The play is so dark it almost extinguishes the light,” my husband said.
Macbeth by Fire, staged by Two Planks and a Passion Theatre at the Ross Creek Centre for the Arts near Canning, starts with a female perspective. Women dressed in plaid sing around the fire in a powerful, haunting rendition of the folk ballad, My Husband’s Got No Courage In Him. This sets the scene for the three Witches to foretell a future that propels Macbeth forward.
As one of Shakespeare’s shortest plays – running at one hour 40 minutes without intermission – Macbeth is a concise, plot-driven, blood-drenched play with some of the most gorgeous language ever.
Jeff Schwager’s Macbeth is an intense, indecisive man flawed by “vaulting ambition” and pushed into murder by his wily wife, played by Melanie Leblanc as a dark-haired enchantress seething with energy and sweeping about in a long tartan dress.
Both actors excel at the passion and torment of this power-hungry couple, who crack under the weight of their murderous deeds.
Ken Schwartz makes interesting and intelligent directorial choices. The witches are not cackling hags but mysterious, confident, singing “sisters.” They summon demons who are frightening, giant, masked creatures. Macbeth’s death scene, with fight direction by Karen Bassett, is unusual and fantastic. His head rolled to a stop almost right in front of my feet.
Sounds are key to Macbeth and musical director and composer Allen Cole’s original use of sound – the very act of its creation – is key to the production. Brian Riley designed an instrument of wonder.
The ensemble cast, perfect and clear in multiple roles, keeps the play rocketing along: Matthew Lumley, as Macduff, Hilary Adams as Malcolm and the Third Witch; Burgandy Code as the First Witch and a drunken, vomiting porter; Henricus Gielis as Banquo, Ryan Rogerson as King Duncan, Chris O’Neill as the Second Witch, Micha Cromwell and Ursula Calder.
Jennifer Goodman’s highly creative costumes of tartan, leather and fur place this play excitingly in medieval Scotland. Bonnie Deakin, head of wardrobe, helped assemble costumes while Goodman was stuck in Ontario. (She made it to Nova Scotia for opening night, which was also attended by Dr. Strang.)
Macbeth By Fire runs to Sept. 4 on differing nights at 9 p.m. or 9.30 p.m. Two Planks and a Passion is also staging Schoolhouse, by Leanna Brodie, at 6 p.m., to Sept. 4. (Watch for the review on Friday). Seeing both shows in one go is a very stimulating experience that filled our heads with words and images and ideas that spilled out in conversation for hours afterwards. For full ticket and showtime details go to: http://www.artscentre.ca/twoplanks
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