Hugh Thompson as Macbeth. Photo by David Hou.
MACBETH by William Shakespeare (Shakespeare in High Park/Canadian Stage). At the High Park Amphitheatre. Runs to September 1. Pwyc ($20 sugg). 416-367-1652. See listing. Rating: NNN
Early on in this mostly faithful rendering of the Bard's dark tragedy, director Ker Wells tosses Dream's long-held G rating aside, splattering blood liberally and setting a tone that's more Game Of Thrones than anything we've seen here in recent years.
This welcome deviation from whimsical comedies comes as part of a new partnership between Canadian Stage and York University's drama program, which has two MFA directing students helming complementary shows in repertory. Swapping in the lighter comedy The Taming Of The Shrew (directed by Ted Witzel) on alternating evenings lets Wells explore the Bard's spookier side, which might have been too risky to commit to on its own.
He dials up the gore in a string of 80s horror-movie-inspired moments that include severed body parts, creepy masks and some spine-tingling Chucky-like puppet work. While this is an interesting new approach for the High Park productions, this tale of witches and regicide might work even better in the autumn lead-up to Halloween.
In the title role, Hugh Thompson looks badass rocking a skunk-beard goatee (think Viggo Mortensen in The Road, but in a kilt) and is great during Simon Fon's numerous well-choreographed knife fight scenes and when reacting to terrifying guilt-triggered hallucinations. However, during soliloquies he lacks some of the subtlety required by the best anti-heroes to forge a strong empathetic connection with the audience.
Lindsay C. Walker's austere set design - anchored only by a series of iron-riveted panels on the back walls - lacks the touch of enchantment that visitors to the Dream Site have come to expect, although a nice moment is achieved when the surrounding trees are lit up as Birnam Wood. Substituting modern-looking leather jackets for armour is a bit of an awkward fit, since the rest of Victoria Wallace's costumes mostly suggest a medieval setting.
Despite these minor quibbles, Wells succeeds in the admirable task of crafting a new kind of Dream experience - one that's closer to a nightmare - that celebrates the macabre side of Shakespeare's genius. It makes for a memorable night of outdoor theatre that's less carnival and more spooky campfire story.