Theatre review: Macbeth boasts an even madder and bloodier queen

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Behind every mad and blood thirsty Scottish King is an even madder and bloodier Scottish Queen.  Colleen Wheeler proves this truism in Bard on the Beach’s Macbeth.

Perhaps ironically, where last year’s Richard III found much of its strength from Bob Frazer’s performance in the title role, this year it is in the performance of his character’s wife that elevates this Macbeth beyond the ordinary.

Colleen Wheeler is the one to watch as Shakespeare’s craziest lady, leaving no doubt who really wears the pants of the Macbeth family in this Bard on the Beach production.  Wheeler’s gradual descent into madness is so bloody good it single-handedly helps Miles Potter’s traditional telling of this oft-told tragedy rise from some of the doldrums that surround her appearances.

Bob Frazer and Colleen Wheeler in the Bard on the Beach production of Macbeth.  Photo by David Blue.
Bob Frazer and Colleen Wheeler in the Bard on the Beach production of Macbeth.  Photo by David Blue.

With Bob Frazer’s performance in last year’s Richard III still lingering in my mind (it was at the time and still is my favourite to win him a Jessie Award this year), it is hard not to compare the two performances.  Where Frazer so richly embraced the madness of his King last year he can’t seem to quite conjure the madness in his Macbeth that should have enveloped him through his regicide and Lady’s suicide and his self-perceived invincibility.  Perhaps not surprisingly he is at his most convincing when he is playing to the strengths both of Wheeler’s performance and the relationship of their two characters; together they are simply mesmerizing.

Among the supporting cast, it is once again the women that are the stand-outs here as Dawn Petten, Susan Coodin and Lois Anderson give the witches an unexpected sexual charge and as Macbeth finds himself entwined in this ménage à trois, his madness does reach new creepy heights.

Benefiting from a real-life storm opening night that was supplemented by lightning that nature couldn’t produce herself from lighting designer Gerald King, Potter and his team established a suitable Scottish gloom.  However, while I appreciate the mood that Potter set by closing off Bard on the Beach’s trademark city view in act one, I did find myself longing for that distraction at times.

Costume designer Mara Gottler matches her muted designs with Potter’s overall vision but it is composer and sound designer Murray Price who adds a pulse-inducing soundscape worthy of any good horror movie.

3 Out of 5 StarsMacbeth

Written by William Shakespeare.  Directed by Miles Potter.  A Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival production.  n stage at Vanier Park through September 22, 2012.  Visit for tickets and information.

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