There are some activities that form part of a quintessential Ottawa summer. Beach day trips, picnics, sipping drinks on the patio and… enjoying an outdoor performance of Shakespeare in the park.
Bear and Co. have been performing in Ottawa since June 2012 and this year brings us the tragedy of Macbeth.
I attended with a friend at Applewood Acres park in Alta Vista. Performing outdoors presents the actors and director with challenges, not least unwanted noises, such as children playing, babies crying, an overhead helicopter or nearby sirens. However, there are also many benefits to this type of performance: the audience are able to be closer to the actors and can witness “backstage” forcing the performers to stay in character and lending a magical air to the proceedings.
This production was superior, even more so, because almost every actor played more than one part.
As a teacher and Shakespeare buff, I was so pleased to see children sitting and listening in rapture. The performances were so rich and vibrant that they transcended any content that may have been lost in the translation of Shakespearian language. The younger members of the audience were focused and entertained, one little girl was even following along from an illustrated copy of Macbeth, and mouthed along during the most famous scenes.
Just seven actors portrayed all the characters in the play with most playing two or three different parts. The strength of the performances was evidenced by the audience’s complete belief in their transformation, regardless of the limitations, including just simple costume changes to denote a change in character. Zoe Georgaras gave all the drunken swaggering naughtiness of Seyton the porter, before effortlessly switching to a weird and surreal witch. In fact, all three witches gave an incredibly strange and compelling performance and then manifested into masculine roles with total believability.
I certainly found some new nuances that I haven’t seen in other versions, for instance the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth crackled with sexual chemistry, you believed completely that they were lovers, and Doreen Taylor-Claxton’s Lady Macbeth in particular, had a sort of wicked sensuality that had you rooting for her in all her evil plotting.
Chris McLeod was magnificent, at times he made Macbeth appear almost childlike in his vulnerability, especially in the scene with Banquo’s ghost and then in contrast, when ordering the death of Macduff’s family, he transcended into a dark and foul villain.
Rachel Eugster’s Banquo commanded attention, especially when garbed in blood and staring down treacherous Macbeth, she gave a sinister laugh which echoed around the park! Also as Music Director, Eugster knitted the show together with a fantastic score, which both entertained and anchored the play to its origins and place in history. The actor’s voices were beautifully harmonised and the vocal ensembles lifted the show from merely a play, into an experience.
One of the witches, Alexis Scott, also played Macduff, and on hearing of the murder of his entire family she fell to the floor, “all my pretty chickens?” she asked, her exploration of grief was raw with emotion- I was moved.
I had to check the program twice to confirm Daniel Claxton was, in fact, a grade 11 student, he gave a masterful and mature performance as four different characters and added a depth to the vocal arrangement way beyond his years- this is a young man to watch!
In a reversal of traditional Shakespearian casting, which due to Elizabethan law saw women banned from the stage, and men playing women, director Eleanor Crowder has women playing men, and they do so with conviction and flair. Sarah Waisvisz effortlessly played four male characters plus an eerie and powerful witch.
The witches’ scenes were particularly engrossing. Crowder allowed us to enter their world, where they shone as the central fundamental driver in this story of ambition gone awry. Their role has been expanded with an exciting fiery component: they danced with fire and at the end of the performance we were treated to Georgaras performing with a flaming hula hoop, it was quite thrilling!
Even though the weight of the tragedy was conveyed to the audience, it also seemed like the cast were having such fun, no doubt a further sign of their cohesion as a group, brought together by their director, Eleanor Crowder. Her leadership is informed by over 40 years of experience and committed artistry. If you prefer your theatre with a roof, you can catch this show again, indoors, at the Gladstone in September. I am excited about catching other performances by this company, also at the Gladstone, such as Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, in November and Finishing The Suit, in March 2017.
I urge Ottawan’s not to miss Bear and Co.’s performance of Macbeth this summer, it will be the highlight of your season, there are performances still to catch in Old Ottawa South, Westboro, Hintonburg, New Edinburgh, Old Ottawa East, The Glebe, Sandy Hill, Orleans, and Wakefield PQ- see the touring schedule at www.bearandcompany.ca for further details.
If you do attend, don’t forget to line the proffered hats with a donation (suggested amount $20). Believe me, it’s worth every penny!