Jocelyn Pelletier is an actor, writer and director. But when he’s in the audience, it’s not necessarily the acting, words or vision that he fixates on. “Most of the time, when I go to the theatre, what I enjoy most is the musical part.”
He’s a fan of different genres, especially electronic and experimental styles, or what he terms “‘very extreme music.”
So when Pelletier sought to reinvent Macbeth, a story based partly on historical figures that has spawned countless iterations about the allure and pitfalls of power, he rewrote much of the text and started thinking about a musical.
First presented in 1606, “the Scottish Play” focuses on a general who encounters a cadre of witches who prophesied that he will become King. Macbeth is cajoled by his unscrupulous wife into getting his hands very dirty in order to achieve their vision. While he rises to the medieval C-suite, his subsequent fall is a bloody warning about overarching ambition.
Pelletier instead casts Macbeth as the frontman of a heavy metal band. The show is part concept album, part witchy, psychological thriller, reinforced with percussion and cacophonous guitar chords. His show MACDEATH is getting a remount next week at la Chapelle Scènes Contemporaines.
“The guitars are the swords. It’s their weapon,” says Pelletier. The witches open the play, and Lady Macbeth is there, but much of the Bard’s story has been scrubbed. This play instead taps into Macbeth’s mental state and some of metal’s tenets: authenticity, solidarity, questioning power and consumerism. It’s “the story we know, but with a little twist.”
Pelletier grew up in St-Hubert but is now based in Montreal, where he recently graduated from the directing program at the National Theatre School. His Phaedra-inspired work From Time and Eternity has played at Usine C and Ottawa’s Trillium Theatre.
“As a child, I always wanted to be in a band, but I’m not good at any instrument at all,” Pelletier says. “I’m a manager of a fictional group!”
Guillaume Perreault, who plays the frontman, found an old incantation of sorts online, and it was incorporated into a few of the songs. It was a slow process, as each tune took awhile to craft; some are even in English. It’s important to note that this is not a show from a seasoned band. Not all the five-member-strong cast are trained musicians, though Samuel Bobony is a bonafide drummer. Pelletier admitted that here he is intentionally striving to push his artists out of their comfort zone; to create a certain anxiety in the performance.
Pelletier himself took care of the set design, to create a world that is “dark, loud and bloody.”
Costume designer Kate Lecourse did a lot of research into musicians and bands to craft the heavy metal look.
“In my wildest dreams, it’s a field of mud. It’s like they’re in a cemetery,” says Pelletier. Four litres of fake blood are used in each performance. “Some of (the actors) are getting pretty dirty.”
MACDEATH has been a work in progress for three-and-a-half years, developed with help from two performance labs. The show was first workshopped at Montreal’s OFFTA 2018 and then at Quebec City’s Mois Multi in 2019. With the show’s remount at la Chapelle, the team has been gifted an extra week of residency.
“It’s amazing because we can concentrate and can work deeper,” says Pelletier. He hopes to eventually record songs from the show and share them online. ■
MACDEATH will be performed at la Chapelle (3700 St-Dominique), March 9–10, 13–17, various times, $33.50/$28.50 students, seniors, under 30, art pros and neighbourhood residents/$23.50 performing arts students. The performance on March 13 will have English surtitles.
For more Montreal arts coverage, please visit the Arts section.
To read the latest issue of Cult MTL, click here.
For our latest To-Do List for things to do in Montreal, please also click here.
Additionally, to vote for your favourite Montreal people and things in the Best of MTL readers poll, click here.