MACBETH by William Shakespeare, directed by Soheil Parsa, with Peter Farbridge, Stavroula Logothettis, Juana Awad, Karim Morgan, Brendan Murray, Alon Nashman, Parsa, Yashoda Ranganathan and Lyon Smith. Presented by Modern Times at the Theatre Centre (1087 Queen West). Previews begin Saturday (March 5), opens Wednesday (March 9) and runs to March 27, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $15-$25, Sunday pwyc, March 11 gala $50. 416-504-7529. Rating: NNNNN
There's something about Macbeth - ask anyone who's been in a production. You can count on something unusual happening.
Peter Farbridge says his last performance at the 2003 Fadjr International Theatre Festival was his most unsettling stage experience.
"There was nowhere to perform," he says with a touch of wonder.
Toronto's Modern Times Stage Company had brought the show, directed by Soheil Parsa, to Iran, where it got more attention than anyone expected. Farbridge peeked out at the audience and saw 600 people trying to get into a space that could hold hardly half that number.
"It took us 45 minutes to clear the room enough so that we could get to the playing area. That last show was haphazard and chaotic, with the audience crowding around the circular stage.
"It might not have been the best performance we gave, but in terms of our exchange with the audience, I've never felt anything like that in my life."
The company - marking its 15th year - is reviving that production of Shakespeare's Scottish play first seen in Toronto a decade ago, again helmed by Parsa.
He and his artistic associate Farbridge have always given Modern Times a strong thrust, emphasizing the elements of Persian theatre that Parsa watched when he was growing up. Storytelling, music and movement are central to the style, which Parsa blends with Western techniques.
What's especially exciting is that the company's technique works with both Iranian plays like Aurash and Stories From The Rains Of Love And Death and Western scripts like Hamlet, The Cherry Orchard and Ionesco's The Chairs.
Though Macbeth is one of their most cherished productions, the creative team didn't want to replicate the earlier version. That made the venue the first big factor.
"At first I wasn't inspired by the spaces I saw around town," recalls Parsa. "Then I went to look at the Theatre Centre and had some new ideas about staging. The brick walls, the industrial quality of the space, the metal - it all felt right for me."
Previous productions played to audiences on four sides, but this time viewers are on two sides of the action. And it's allowed Parsa to broaden his imagery possibilities.
"We're not hiding anything but rather using every part of the architecture that's visible. That's true of traditional Persian theatre as well. This Macbeth puts the staging's mythic element within the building's modern structure. We're using it all to our advantage."
The title figure's also evolved over the years. When Farbridge first took on the mantle of the man who steps deeply into evil, he was only 26.
"I realize that my instrument as an actor has changed, as has my perspective on life," he offers. "I find Macbeth less blustery now, less angry than before. I don't have the need to yell to get across authority, but instead let that control come from within. I think that I can do less and just be more.
"I also understand better the disillusionment that overtakes Macbeth toward the end of the play, in something like the 'Tomorrow and tomorrow' speech. I didn't feel it in my 20s, but now I do.
"Previously, I was in touch with Macbeth the warrior. Now I understand something about a man who's defeated by a number of circumstances."
And the witches, often blamed for the spooky situations that plague productions of the play, are they real?
Do they control the action or do the Macbeths bring on their own catastrophe?
"The mystery of existence is a common theme in our productions," admits Parsa, who plays an onstage role as central storyteller in this version of the classic. "It's inherent in Shakespeare, too. Our finite brains can't find the answers to the infinite, so we accentuate those puzzling questions.
"We may look for connections, why things happen as they do. But when we start to define them from our human perspective, we get into trouble."