Macbeth features tartan at Bard on the Beach with a powerful performance

Macbeth Theatre review

at Bard on the Beach, Vanier Park, Vancouver

directed by Miles Potter

on until September 20

At one time, Vancouver was a very Scottish colonial city.  It’s first mayor, Malcolm Alexander MacLean was born in Tiree, Scotland. The Scots used to be the #1 ethnicity listed in the Vancouver census.  And on August 25th 1928, a statue of Robert Burns, The Scottish Bard was erected in Stanley Park.  On July 19th, a group of people wearing kilts and tartans went to see Macbeth at Bard on the Beach for several reasons: 1) to mark the 212th anniversary of the passing of Robert Burns on July 21st; 2) Macbeth is known as “The Scottish Play”; 3) wearing kilts is just plain fun!  – Todd Wong

special guest review by Xavier MacDonald – on July 19th


“The Scottish Play”, as it is also known, begins with a tartan bundle centre stage amid the stark, drably beautiful set. Yes tartan is used in the costuming but don’t expect anachronistically kilted warriors everywhere. Here the tartan serves to accent the clean costuming. It is often said of a production and more often striven for that the actors be clothed in something “timeless”. Bard’s Macbeth achieves it in a way that most productions can only hope to. Costumer Mara Gottler shows us genius.


There is little to criticize in this excellent production and if I were to criticize it would really only be me being picky about minor points and not representative of this outstanding production so let me just quickly give you a taste of what is so right about this show. The performances range from solid to outstanding. Where Duncan is often presented as a shallow king with little substance who leaves the stage early, Bernard Cuffling plays him as a truly noble and worthy king whose loss actually feels like a tragedy. Craig’s Ericson’s Banquo is more than serviceable right up until his death after which he becomes chillingly realized.


The coronation dinner always seems a difficult scene to pull off demanding more of the macabre than most versions can present, but the company at Bard on the Beach serves it fantastically where it is actually terrifying and deeply affecting. Another tough scene to pull off for modern audiences is the porter scene. It’s just so full of contemporary (to Shakespeare) references that it too often seems to mean little to a modern audience. John Murphy makes it look like child’s play. He brings it right to us and makes me feel like he’s simply letting me understand him.


Oh, and I could crow on and on about how powerful and ambitious, sexy and even loving Colleen Wheeler’s portrayal of Lady Macbeth is, but I will strive to be concise and merely state that she is not only the stately raven, dark and cunning, but the whole horrifying murder embodied herself. It’s worth the price of admission just to see tragic fate turn back on her. The shining clarity that the Macbeths are unaware of the changes to themselves and their environment that each bloody action initiates is vividly clear from scene to scene until they are indeed steeped so far in blood that there is no turning back.


The real strength in Macbeth is that the pieces all work together as a whole. There is a fantastic unity to the piece where all the performances, design, technical and directorial elements of the play are working together to support one another and accomplishing their respective tasks to make each other look good.  It’s team work folks and it’s beautiful to see a company, any company reaching such heights.  If I were to offer any criticism I would say that you probably shouldn’t expect to be wowed by the battle scenes. Some of the sword play is very simple and sometimes that’s a good thing amid the starkness of this production, but sometimes it left me wanting more.


If you’re looking for an uncommonly good production of Macbeth you are unlikely to ever do better than director Miles Potter’s outstanding accomplishment at Bard on the Beach this summer. It might be the only time this play has its superstitious curse removed and consciously so.  Do yourself a favour and catch it.  You deserve it.

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