Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Classically Brilliant Shakespearean Theatre; Macbeth

A couple of weeks ago I heard the tell-tale ping of an e-mail hitting the in box.  Upon opening it, I was more than delighted to see that it was from Keyano Theatre and I was being invited for a backstage tour of the up-coming play Macbeth.  I have to admit, I totally adore backstage tours at Keyano theatre.  Each time I have gone it has been before I have seen the play and it has made the play that much more interesting when I do see it performed.  I immediately contacted a friend of mine who is also of a curious nature to invite her, knowing that she would find the backstage tour as fascinating as I do.  November 27th came up fast on my calendar and soon I found myself waiting in Keyano lobby for the production manager, Nick Beach, in eager anticipation of the tour. 
Up until this point I have been avoiding reading any reviews, blogs or newspaper articles about the play.  I don't want anything to colour my perception of what I am to see both on the backstage tour and the play that I will see that evening. We walk into the theatre and I am immediately struck by the lack of a set.  I am intrigued. I know that the stage floor has been painted many, many times over the years for each production that has run at Keyano Theatre, but this time it seems to be different.  There are 16 squares where the entire play will be performed and the floor itself seems to absorb light. Nick quickly explains that the floor has been painted as close to matte as possible with highway paint to avoid light bouncing off of it.  I look around and soon realize that this set is a work in simplicity and lighting.  The lights are set up on the side as they would for a dance production, which I am informed has never been done before at the Theatre for a play. We move to the side of the stage where we look at the daggers used in the play.  They are not stage-prop ready knives that one usually sees in a production, which by the way break more often that the actors would like in a sword fight, but are made in an armoury in Britain and tour with the company.  I am thinking that customs might be a bit dodgy at times explaining what is in your traveling case for these guys.  I notice that there are black pieces of cloth on the floor.  These serve two purposes for the play, first as a costume for the witches and second to aid the actors in fading into the darkness....kinda' like a Theatre Snuggy.  Macbeth is a military play so I was not surprised to see that they were using flak vests as part of the costumes.  So simple, yet implying so much more.  When I left the backstage tour I was seriously looking forward to seeing Macbeth that evening armed with my new found backstage Intel.  Not only do I like Macbeth, but this is the ONLY stop in Canada that Aquila Theatre  Company (www.aquilatheatre.com)  is making. 
 I arrive that Sunday night for the closing night performance of  The Tragedy of Macbeth, which is a play about a regicide and its aftermath. It is about the darkness found in the souls of humankind and the tragedy of irresistible temptation. The plot of Macbeth is set in motion ostensibly by the prophecy of the three witches. The prophecy fans the flames of ambition within Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, serving as the primary impetus for the entire play. I can not help but wonder: Would Macbeth have committed such heinous crimes if not for the prophecy? What if he had ignored the witches’ statements? Is it not really about the choices that one makes in life that set us upon one path or another?  Macbeth’s tragic flaw is that he choose to commit murder even though he could simply discard the witches words.
Photo Credit to Aquila Theatre

Some of the most famous and poetic lines from Macbeth are expressions of remorse and guilt. “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood / Clean from my hand?” exclaims Macbeth after he stabs Duncan (II ii 58-59). Similarly, Lady Macbeth is plagued by a “spot” that she cannot remove from her hand: “Out, damned spot! Out, I say. . . What, will these hands ne’er be clean?” (V I 30-37).  These are the lines that I think everyone knows.  I can hear people around me as Lady MacBeth says her famous lines both uttering the words with the actor, and smiling(and yes you can hear a smile) in recognition. 
Photo Credit to Aquila Theatre
The performance by Aquila Theatre was classically brilliant Shakespearean Theatre. When Shakespearean Theatre is done correctly, which was done with this company of British actors it can transport the patron into a world of intrigue, and open questions to our human psyche.  Since seeing the play I have had time to read the reviews, blogs and entered into discussions on the impressions this play has left on many people in Wood Buffalo.  I must admit that I  thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this production and while some might not agree, the play held true to the art of Shakespearean theatre.  The thoughtful minimalistic use of  colour, and the inventive lighting techniques made this one of my favorite plays that I have had the opportunity to see.

While doing some background on The Tragedy of MacbethMacbeth by name while inside a theatre, and sometimes refer to it indirectly, for example as "the Scottish play" or "MacBee", or when referring to the character and not the play, "Mr. and Mrs. M", or "The Scottish King". This is because Shakespeare is said to have used the spells of real witches in his text, purportedly angering the witches and causing them to curse the play. Thus, to say the name of the play inside a theatre is believed to doom the production to failure, and perhaps cause physical injury or death to cast members.  One particular incident that lent itself to the superstition was the Astor Place Riot. The Astor Place Riot occurred on May 10, 1849 at the now-demolished  Astor Opera House in Manhattan, New York City and left at least 25 dead and more than 120 injured. Because the cause of these riots was based on a conflict over two performances of Macbeth, this is often thought of as having been caused by the curse. Several methods exist to dispel the curse, depending on the actor. One, attributed to Michael York is to immediately leave the building the stage is in with the person who uttered the name, walk around it three times, spit over their left shoulders, say an obscenity then wait to be invited back into the building. A related practice is to spin around three times as fast as possible on the spot, sometimes accompanied by spitting over their shoulder, and uttering an obscenity. Another popular "ritual" is to leave the room, knock three times, be invited in, and then quote a line from  Hamlet. Yet another is to recite lines from  The Merchant of Venice, thought to be a lucky play.
As far as I am concerned we are very lucky intend to have had the Canadian debut from Aquila Theatre company in the production of Macbeth here in Fort McMurray. Thank you to all that made this possible and thank you Nick for an enlightening backstage tour. 

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