Review: Macbeth (Sterling Theatre Company)

Toronto’s Sterling Theatre Company’s take on Macbeth is equal parts “Thrilling” and “Sensual”

touchedMACBETH -1-0242217Macbeth, one of Shakespeare’s bloodiest tragedies, is Sterling Theatre Company’s season opener in their new shared (with Unit 102 Players) venue, The Theatre Machine. What an innovative and compelling take on the classic tale!

Set in a post apocalyptic environment where the Illuminati strives to gain ultimate control over society, we’re given an intriguing perspective on Shakespeare’s tale of a brave general and his wife who are driven to murder and madness by greed and ambition.

After a valiant show in battle, Macbeth happens upon three witches who reveal that he is destined to be king. He is, at first, unnerved. Spurned on by Lady Macbeth, he quickly sets about the vile deeds necessary to bring this prophecy to life.

The juxtaposition of the brutal and the sensual is a key aspect of this play. In her direction, Sophie Ann Rooney allows the blood and eroticism to share a space here. She’s crafted an intense and sensual production, where body language and poetry are the focus.

There are a limited number of interactive seats for this show. I chose to have this touchy-feely experience. Now, before you shy folks go running for the hills, the interactivity is not at all demanding. You watch the action from onstage, but you are hidden beneath a hooded cloak and mask. You are treated as a sworn member of a secret society. The characters are right there beside you and they take you into their confidence with a look or a gesture. There is one sequence where you may be required to participate in a ritual, but it is brief and you are lead through it.

In the lobby, you’ll find a warning sign that reads: Violence, Blood, Nudity, Content of a Sexual Nature, Incense and Sacrilegious. These are some of my favourite things, so I could barely contain my excitement. But, just in case, it’s always good to know what sort of mischief is in store for you.

This is a modern and atmospheric production. A strip of light lines the playing area. Running water cascades at the rear of the stage. The eerie sound it makes heightens the tension, but it also accentuates the earthy sensuality of the play. Characters frequently clean themselves in it, desperately trying to wash away the blood that never stops flowing.

There is an exciting urgency in the performances. William MacDonald (Macbeth) and Olunike Adeliyi (Lady Macbeth) are fierce, vulnerable and almost unbearably conflicted. They were thrilling. So determined, so committed, so terrified of themselves. In their movements, I could almost see the dark forces taking them over.

Adeliyi has a particularly complex presence: forceful and commanding one moment, then suddenly shuddery and animalistic. Chills went right up my spine every time MacDonald made eye contact with me. And when Tim Walker’s MacDuff discovers his wife and children have been slain… his reaction gave me goosebumps.

Danka Scenpanovic’s lewd and hilarious turn as the Porter is real treat. Amidst the bloody mess that unfolds, it is a seemingly frivolous rant about drunkenness and sexual performance. Brandishing a bottle of booze and a slurred European accent, she stumbled and slobbered her way right into my heart. This is a bit of goofiness that some productions cut because of its supposed irrelevance to the plot. If properly framed—as it is here—it is a welcome (and necessary) bit of comedic relief.

The original score by Cat Montgomery (Cat and the Queen) is moody and atmospheric. She accompanies the performers for almost the entire running time, but, for the most part, her music is relatively subtle. There are a few key moments, however, where it is more obvious and exhilarating. My favourite: the tribal beat that underscores Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s writhing pleasure at having committed their first murder.

If I were to choose two words to describe this production, they would be: thrilling and sensual. And I highly recommend the interactive experience. With lust and murder, you’ll want to be right there where the action is.


Photo of Olunike Adeliyi and William MacDonald by Farrah Aviva Photography

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