by William Shakespeare
Edited adaptation by Stephen Drover
Pound of Flesh Theatre
Russian Hall, 600 Campbell Av.
Macbeth is Shakespeare’s shortest play, famous for the momentum that drives it from Macbeth’s meeting with the witches to his and his persuasive Lady’s murder of King Duncan to the bloodbaths and madness that follow. Lady Macbeth kills herself, Burnham Wood comes to Dunsinane, and Macduff takes his revenge. The spooky, grisly tragedy of bloodlust and misplaced ambition comes to a quick, cathartic conclusion.
But Macbeth isn’t quick enough for director Stephen Drover. Following the success in 2004 of The Bond, his “edited adaptation” of The Merchant of Venice, Drover and his Pound of Flesh theatre company have trimmed the Scottish play to 90 minutes, played without intermission by only eleven actors on a bare triangular floor.
In this mostly successful Macbeth, with dynamic performances by Todd Thomson and Erin Wells in the lead roles, neither actors nor audience have a chance to catch their breath. The breathless pace means never a dull moment. But with the last half of the show played essentially as one long, hysterical mad scene, Shakespeare’s meditative moments don’t have much of a chance either.
Drover’s concept is terrific. He strips away all the Renaissance trappings. No furniture but an old wooden chair for the throne. No accents for the actors. John Popkin’s dramatic lighting and Noah Drew’s fabulous eclectic soundscape provide the ominous atmosphere.
Francesca Albertazzi dresses the characters in modified 21st century Glasgow Goth—King Duncan (Peter Wilson) wears an old black raincoat and turtleneck, Lady M is in sexy Madonna-esque black lace and corset. The witches (Sasa Brown, Robin Mooney, Una Memisevic) are naked beneath diaphanous white gowns.
Some of the cuts are inspired. “Double, double, toil and trouble” is gone and not missed. The slaughter of Lady Macduff and her children is just a wrenching sound cue. A few other things could have gone, too. The Porter (Andrew Vokey) is lame and the swordfight at the end feels conventional.
Thomson offers a powerful, grizzled, sweaty Macbeth, a man of worldly experience and self-reflection—his soliloquies are excellent—who knows what he’s doing but not why. He just can’t help himself, especially when his hot wife wraps herself around him. Once he murders the king, his towering rage and paranoia get the better of him and Thomson storms through the rest of the play. His reaction to the bloody ghost of Banquo (Derek Metz) is one of the few great moments the audience gets to savour.
Wells’ twitchy Lady Macbeth is a match for him in every way, utterly committed to her mission, physically powerful, nakedly ambitious, and by the end completely psycho. Her mad scene is nicely underplayed but a little overwhelmed by the general atmosphere of insanity that powers this brilliant, ugly play to its brutal finale.