Post by Clarissa Fortin
Fair is foul, foul is fair, and Lady Macbeth is wearing a bright red cocktail dress in the current production of Macbeth at Carleton University.
Sock’n’Buskin Theatre Company’s version of the play removes it from its 15th century Scottish trappings: Macbeth’s tragedy plays out against a distinctly 1950’s backdrop.
Queen Duncan — in this version Duncan is a woman — strides onstage in a regal fur coat. The assassins Macbeth meets with are dressed in black turtlenecks and look kind of like beatniks. The members of the court could be extras in a Tennessee Williams play. They smoke, drink, and engage in an surprisingly fun battle scene at the end of the show wherein women in cocktail dresses and men in suit jackets face off and kill each-other in Birnam Wood.
As Lady Macbeth, Meaghan Brackenbury, channels the archetypal bored fifties housewife. Sheldon Paul, who plays Macbeth, becomes a kind of understated everyman in a bowler hat and red tie. His gradual descent into madness is made more unsettling by the fact that his costume doesn’t change at all — he’s same nicely dressed man in a bowler hat in the end, but it’s clear that something has gone terribly wrong. Together Paul and Brackenbury have the right kind of twisted chemistry necessary for those crucial pre-murder scenes.
Other standout performances include Jasmine Stamos’ commanding turn as Witch #1, and Will Lafrance’s portrayal of MacDuff. I found the scene in which MacDuff learns about the death of his family genuinely moving and upsetting because of Lafrance’s performance. Overall the casting for this production is excellent and refreshingly gender-blind.
A stylish minimalist set consisting of several large white screens provides a backdrop for the action. The screens glow eerily during the Birnam wood scenes and remain solid during the scenes in the castle. When Macbeth hallucinates though, the panels begin to glow again, a subtle symbol of the chaos lurking beneath the mannerly 1950’s veneer.
I would have been completely on board with the aesthetic choices of this production if it weren’t for the choices in transition music. The music between scenes includes new age Celtic, and 50’s rock’n’roll. The Celtic music is a callback to Macbeth’s Scottish roots and it is effective in setting the mood for some scenes. However, I found myself distracted by the dissonance between the cheerful 50’s rock songs, and the murder plots happening onstage.
This did not however, take away from my overall enjoyment of an otherwise well-staged and well acted show. Macbeth has been performed thousands of times and it’s fun to see it reinvented once again.
I was especially glad to be there on the night of the pre-show performance “The True Author … Revealed,” a James Armstrong monologue performed with zany energy by Caitlin Hart. Hart is both funny and unnerving as an increasingly unhinged Delia Bacon, who is trying to prove that Shakespeare is in fact not that author of all these famed plays.
Hart will open the next two performances of Macbeth on the 26th and 27th. Another short play, A Number on the Roman Calendar, will be performed before Macbeth from December 1st-3rd.