By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
Macbeth (Freewill Shakespeare Festival at the Old Strathcona Performing Arts Society)
“Leaders Wanted.” “Why Not You?” “Volunteer Here.” At the start of Macbeth, three raffish figures in scavenged combat gear stand onstage holding signs and eyeballing us. They’re recruiting from the audience. “So much potential!” declares one, encouraging a possible candidate. “And courage. And look how humble!”
One of a pair of small-cast fleet-footed productions brought to the Fringe by the Freewill Shakespeare Festival, Macbeth is an inventive, very intelligible three-actor adaptation, riotous but thoughtful, of Shakespeare’s dark and hurtling tragedy. And Horak’s all-female cast does it proud, as black comedy, tragedy, and satire.
I saw it at an outdoor preview. But it should interact with audiences really well indoors, too.
As Macbeth production history worldwide attests, there are many ways to consider the terrifying descent of a decorated war hero, “valour’s minion” into “hell hound.” A toxic moral flaw perhaps? “Vaulting ambition” as Macbeth cautions himself at the outset? Human corruptibility? (Celtic bloodlust caused by excessive bagpipe music?).
Kerry Frampton’s adaptation (licensed from the Brit company Splendid Productions) boldly zeroes in on the very nature of leadership, the metastasizing corruption built into power, acquiring it, maintaining it, justifying it, rebelling against it. And it’s knowing, too, about our fatal drift to follower-ship. “And so it begins again.”
Not only do Laura Raboud, Nadien Chu and Rochelle Laplante play the characters, they play the bouffons who provide the stage directions aloud: “the wise slash foolish king makes an announcement” or “a meeting between Banquo and Macbeth. Two friends pretend that everything is fine.” And they annotate the action admiringly. “Leaders make difficult decisions. Like stabbing your friend in the back. Stab Stab Stab.” Or “everyone admires a rueful leader.” As complications escalate, they’re on it. “Leadership: if it wasn’t hard, Everyone would do it.” They’re also the Unknowns, a version of the the witches, whose prophecies are either supernatural or an eruption of Macbeth’s own secret desires.
At moments of major dramatic tension, “it’s time for a song!” cry the bouffons. And one will haul out a ukulele for the jaunty “Regicide” or “The Song of the Murder of Duncan.” All good macabre fun.
The actors are excellent, in all their assignments. As Macbeth (“solder slash hero slash villain”) Raboud is casual, rather matter-of-fact, even soft-spoken at the outset. The declension of the leader into murder will be precipitous and deep. Laplante, a newcomer to the scene, is a forceful, confident Lady M who becomes unglued in a striking way. And Chu, in great form, attacks her multiple roles with inventive economy and comic zest, as Duncan, Banquo, Macduff and others.
It’s not often you get to say of Macbeth that it’s laugh-out loud funny at times. And it’s rarer still that it’s interspersed with cynical Weill-esque ditties, or fashioned as a repeating cycle of assassination, chaos, leadership.
All very entertaining and insightful.