Review: Shakespeare in High Park – Macbeth (Canadian Stage)

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Eye of newt and outdoor drama in High Park’s outdoor theatre in Toronto

There’s something so appealing about being able to experience theatre in an outdoor space. Maybe because it’s a throwback to ancient Greece or maybe because it’s summer, but watching Shakespeare in the park is something I look forward to every year.

I missed out on Canadian Stage’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream last year and so made it a point to check out Shakespeare in High Park’s Macbeth. While not my absolute favourite of the Bard’s works, the Scottish play is definitely up there so I was eager to see how Ker Wells explored the text.

With a run time of only 90 minutes sans intermission, the show distills the most important sections of the play into a more palatable chunk, perfect for mass appeal and consumption from those who might not be Shakespeare aficionados. With some decent fight scenes and clever special effects, there are certainly exciting and tension-fuelled moments that are interesting to watch. Overall though, I wouldn’t rate the production as one of the most memorable I’ve ever seen.

Some of my quandaries with the show rested with aspects that I felt could’ve been explored further. Like the movement section that kick-started the piece: a really cool choreographed method of showing a battle scene that involved the actors running like it was football practice, changing directions in sync, and emulating the sporadic nature of death on the battlefield. This was followed up by the first installment of the three witches, who also took part in a fluid movement-heavy scene. Maybe it’s my penchant for dance and choreography in general, but I didn’t feel as though this was a through-line in the production. I thought these were interesting and successful elements that petered out too early in the show.

My fellow playgoer Brandon and I both agreed that Philippa Domville’s Lady Macbeth wasn’t quite what we were hoping for. While I do commend her for making an interesting choice, going a route less obviously conniving, I felt her Lady Macbeth erred too much on the side of desperation and I wasn’t fully convinced of her strength from the get-go. I also wasn’t entirely sold on Hugh Thompson’s Macbeth as I found his version a bit inconsistent throughout the length of the show, though Brandon did enjoy his performance.

My favourite performance of the night was Hume Baugh as the Porter, and not simply because he was lucky enough to get the comedic break in all the tragedy and gore. To me, Baugh presents the best way Shakespeare can be performed. When the actor understands the Bard’s intent to such a degree, that it translates naturally in his own delivery. If the performer has that level of understanding, then the audience will be able to latch on to what he’s trying to say, even if the actual words might not make sense (whether that be because they’re unfamiliar with the text or otherwise).

With all this in mind, however, I’m still going to suggest that people check this one out. For the following very simple reasons: this is the first out of a few Canadian Stage productions this year that I’ve only felt meh about, it’s outdoor theatre, it costs as much as you think it deserves. Bring a blanket or two, some non-noisy snacks, and just take it all in. Even if you feel as I do about the production, the experience itself is worth the time.

Details

  • Macbeth is performed at the High Park Amphitheatre (1873 Bloor Street West).
  • Performances are Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays until September 1st beginning at 8 pm.
  • Tickets are $15 and $20 for general admission and $25 to reserve a cushion in the premium zone (first four rows).
  • All seating is first come first served.
  • Tickets can be purchased online at CanadianStage.

Sophie Goulet, Jennifer Dzialoszynski and Philippa Domville in Macbeth. Photo by David Hou.