Classic Shakespeare play, Macbeth, in which Scottish general Macbeth murders the King at the prompting of his wife and a prophecy to seize the throne for himself, is one of the most loved and popularly performed shows of all time. Some are done as precision recreations of the Shakespearean original. Others are distant reinterpretations. Raise the Stakes Theatre (RST), the resident guest company at Theatre St. Catherine, is mounting a production this January with the aim of creating a timeless production. I spoke to director Matt Enos about the show.
Enos explains that the RST decided to undertake Macbeth because the themes of the play — ambition and its cost — are worth a close look. “It’s a good thing to examine what people are willing to pay in order to get what they want,” he says. “I think as far as classical theatre goes, it’s important to examine every couple of years how we stand in comparison to these characters and see what are people willing to give up. We’re in that world where people will put aside who they thought they were to get promoted or to get more money. It’s important to think about that every once awhile and Macbeth is the ultimate example of that.”
Macbeth is one of the most commonly produced plays in the world. Enos even says that he thinks a production is mounted every four hours in the world. RST is adding its own touch to the show by making it as timeless as possible. “Well, without over simplifying, the way that I see it, it could be at any time before the invention of electricity and anytime when kings are still very important,” he says. “I’m setting it so that it could happen at any time. It’s kind of the idea of classical theatre. It can extend to ancient Greece, it could be now. It could be anywhere any time.”
His one limit is no artificial light. “For me the only conventions was that the night is the night and there is no artificial light to help you out. Night is terrifying. Even now, you’re out camping and walking in the woods at night. In the dark, you’re like ‘I don’t feel so good.’ Artificial light gives a comfort to the world that I don’t want.”
To support this end, the costumes and set are minimalist. Instead, the focus is on the story. Enos says, “I know we’ve been slammed by critics in the past, for not setting our work in a particular time, like Central Africa in the 1950s. I don’t care that much about it. The most important element is the story. For me the story can happen at any time and will continue to happen. It’s not like an old story. This will happen this year somewhere.”
Enos especially focuses on the relationships between the characters. “I do a lot of improv at the Theatre Sainte Catherine and one of the sayings is that the relationship is the story. With that in mind, that’s what our Macbeth is going to be. We’re trying to focus on all these relationships between everyone in the show and examine those moments. What is the married couple’s relationship like? What is the relationship to king like? How do they interact with each other?”
“The way I usually see this play done and the way a lot of us are taught in high school — I think everyone read it in high school — is from a literary standpoint. It’s about someone very evil, someone who wants to do all these things. I read in an essay that the real horror of Macbeth is that any one of us might be capable of doing exactly what he does. It’s a lot more interesting if you approach it as two good people who make a bad decision and are paying for it,” he says.
When looking for actors who could take on this kind of assignment, Raise the Stakes found actors who had “vulnerability and worked well chemistry wise.” He laughs as he says, “If you ever want to meet a lot of good actors in Montreal, all you have to do is put up an ad for a Shakespeare audition.”
Directing Shakespeare has been a positive experience for Enos. It’s the biggest production he’s worked on as a director. I ask if he has advice for other directors about mounting a production, “Just do it. You can think about it forever,” he says, “You have to take the leap and everything else will fall into place. Like in improv, when you say yes all the time. You say I’m going to do this play and everything else will become secondary to that decision.”
And as for the superstition of actors not saying the show’s name… “So far we’re doing okay. We’ll see when we go into tech week, but it’s been pretty good so far.”
Macbeth is at the Theatre St Catherine (264 ST Catherine E) on January 27-30, February 3-6 at 8 p.m., and January 31 and February 7 at noon. $20. Tickets HERE.