Tragic roles are hard. While a joyful scene may bring a redemptive sense that order has been restored, tragedy draws a universal pathos from characters whose projects are ultimately doomed or self-destructive. Order and redemption, it seems, become much more real in their absence than in their presence. When this failure and lack is found within the characters themselves, performing it on stage makes demands that no charisma nor intensity can answer to.
Yet both Nathaniel Pemberton and Madeleine Miller, as Lord and Lady Macbeth in SUDS’ current production of the Scottish play, perform their roles well. Through at times excessive in their shows of emotion, their performance constantly hints at desires and forces well beyond their expression in words. Yet the play develops those extremes, and ultimately points to an important aspect of Macbeth that I had never noticed until this performance – that the characters, as much as the actors, are dressed in borrowed robes.
Unable to come to terms with their actions, they become actors in the roles that destiny has set in store for them. And ultimately poor actors, becoming unhinged and increasingly losing themselves to fate. As we follow the decline of bare ambition into evil tyranny, we feel, perhaps as Macbeth might have felt, that the more we distance ourselves from this evil, the more we end up accepting its necessity.
The production is also slick. What it brings to light it brings through darkness – that is, through the voids and shadows, the traces and whispers, that every scene leaves on stage, and occasionally a drone will ring that gives even more gravity to that darkness. In this it provides an effective counterpoint to the leads, expressing through absence and darkness what their words fall short of yet lies constantly in their wake.
Whether you consider yourself a seasoned viewer of Macbeth or you’ve never read or seen the play, get over to the Cellar Theatre at 7pm on any night until Saturday August 30.