“Life ... is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” ― William Shakespeare, Macbeth
Seattle Shakespeare’s Macbeth intensely portrays how the blind chase for power can wreak havoc on one’s life if left untamed. The story follows Scottish general Macbeth (Reginald André Jackson) on his quest to become king, following a prophecy from the weird sisters promising his ascent to the throne. With Lady Macbeth’s (Alexandra Tavares) help, he kills King Duncan (Charles Leggett) and spirals into insanity, plagued by the insecurity and shame of his deed. The cast interpreted the characters beautifully, but some of the special effects were distracting at times.
The incredible acting in this production shows the cast’s dedication to the craft. Each character was distinct from the others, all blending into a mesmerizing show. Jonelle Jordan captured Banquo’s rough and determined essence perfectly, showcasing Banquo’s bravery without sacrificing grace. Banquo often becomes angry during the show, and Jordan encapsulates this anger effortlessly. Likewise, an astounding performance was given from young Hattie Jaye. Even in the midst of chaotic battle scenes, she stood her ground and controlled the stage in a way I have never seen from an actor of her age. Her depiction perfectly displayed the inquisitive nature of the timid young Macduff, capturing the quiet ferocity of a child fighting for a peaceful life. The portrayal of the weird sisters was particularly impressive; their voices and actions seemed inhuman and disturbing. The three actors employed impressive vocal techniques such as sudden register changes, slides, and trills. Their sharp movements caught my attention, as they seemed to act randomly, at odds with the human world, but completely in sync with each other. They used shudders and odd head positions, along with uneven steps and flailing arms, to create a sense that something was intrinsically off-balance inside them.
The production used the performance space to its full potential; five different entrance points around the auditorium led up to the round stage, with actors emerging from every corner. This setup brought excitement to the show, and kept the audience on their toes. The set designers dressed the stage simply, with only a few faux walls and a faucet embedded in one of them. This faucet, however, was the centerpiece of the set design. Characters interacted with it frequently, washing off their blood-stained hands from battle. It cleaned them well, until the water from the faucet turned to blood, adding to the eerie feel of the show. Creating a set that accentuates the performances without distracting from them is difficult, but the set designers managed it beautifully. The dramatic lighting and intense music also contributed to an immersive performance. I could feel the power of the deep bass drumming in my bones. The lights moved with the music, drawing audible gasps from the audience.
Costume Designer Jae Hee Kim took a minimalist approach in dressing the actors. The costumes were simple, amplifying the story without distracting from it. However, the simplicity made it difficult to tell the characters apart when coupled with the energetic choreography. This confusion could have been avoided by assigning a color to each character, subtly weaving that color throughout the costume. For example, Lady Macbeth wears a bright red dress during a party scene. Adding red accents to the rest of her clothing would have helped distinguish her from the rest of the cast. Another option would be to simply diversify the colors, fabrics, and specific clothing styles used to create the costumes.
The use of blood throughout the play was also intriguing. The blood in Macbeth represents life, death, and, most importantly, the stain of guilt. Used in nearly every scene, characters would often have their hands or arms covered in blood. In the first act, blood drips out of a dying man’s mouth as he sinks to the ground; his blood keeps him alive until his last moments. This was the first use of blood within the play, and the use of it in a seemingly unnecessary place sets the stage for it to be a highlight of the show. Later, Lady Macbeth turns on a faucet during a fit of insanity. Blood pours out, completely covering her. This scene symbolizes her guilt and how she can never escape it. Lady Macbeth feels entangled and trapped by what she has done, and the excess of blood shows that. After Macbeth murders Duncan, he emerges onstage drenched in blood. This use of blood exemplifies his guilt and shame for what he has done. In his search for power, Macbeth has let himself become corrupted. When he attempts to remove the blood, it is stubborn, illustrating how his guilt and shame can never truly leave him. Even when he manages to wash away the blood, it soon returns, showing how he can never escape his past. In the last moments of the show, Fleance (Hersh Powers) stands under Macbeth’s severed head and gets drenched in his blood. I’m not sure why he did this, it could just be an unusual director’s choice. Either way, blood is a very prominent motif throughout the play.
While this play has many incredible special effects, one was overused to an uncomfortable extent. When I stepped into the theater, a thick cloud of fake smoke immediately assaulted my senses. The set designers used the smoke to create brilliant visual effects, adding greatly to the lighting design. However, the prominence of the smoke left me struggling to concentrate on the story, as breathing in the fumes was quite unpleasant. This detracted from my overall enjoyment of the production.
The team at Seattle Shakespeare does the stunning tragedy of Macbeth justice. Incredible acting, lighting, and sound design contribute to a captivating experience, though attendees with sensitive lungs or asthma may want to take the thick smoke into account before visiting.
Macbeth took place at Seattle Shakespeare Company on October 25 - November 20, 2022. For more information see here.