Who knew a riveting Shakespearean tale of politics, betrayal and murder could make such a brilliant child’s pantomime?
Based on the famous literary pioneer the Bard of Avon’s shortest play, Macbeth, Macdeth is a fun-filled, family-friendly, fantastically-written feature starring some of Australia’s most talented and nuanced stage performers. Pairing slapstick, physical comedy and caricatures with moments of the richly traditional prose, Macdeth is the Monty Python-esque adaptation of an all-too-familiar tale nobody asked for but that we all wanted once we saw it. Following the story of Macbeth and his uncontrollable taste for glory that is further inspired by the greed of his wife and his murder of King Duncan, this tragedy is brought to life in a way that even the Shakespeare non-believers will love, adding contemporary references and modernising the Scottish epic so that younger audiences can relate to the piece and its resurging themes. Company 13 brings to 2019’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival this ridiculous show, and as a company started by the friendship of thirteen people and their creative camaraderie, you really feel that crackling chemistry between the performers as they breathe life into a sitcom-like rendition of one of the greatest classics in the history of theatre.
Written with pure wit and ingenious insight on the characters and their situation, Macdeth keeps delivering in its smart direction and inclusion of all elements of the space, including the vacant stage-side band, the curtain separating theatre spaces, and even the seating aisles. Director James Pratt ensures the usage of every morsel in the theatre is utilised, with a sheeted blackboard centrestage moving back and forth as a transitional convention and even donning the familiar pillows and blanket – an unoriginal but beloved image that, when executed correctly, can be one of most charming moments of the show. Dressing the actors in exaggerated neat daywear like high-waisted shorts with suspenders on our very own Macbeth, the caricatures were physically created and maintained in a hilarious fashion (literally), with even nuances of a propped collar to show a character change being obvious, which is a feat to behold. Amalgamating everything from mime and slapstick to realism to improvisation, James’s imaginative and inventive approach covers all the bases of theatre that ought to be covered in a refined but refreshing way, giving access for each performer to shine consistently, for the themes and plot to be cohesive, and for the jokes to land stronger than a ship to shore.
And landing these jokes are our multidisciplinary performers. Christian Bagin plays leading man Macbeth like a wishy-washy simpleton trying his darnedest to just live a fulfilling life and impress his wife; donning the perfectly exaggerated Eastern European accent matched with his laid-back, ditzy charisma makes him even more formidable as the likeable innocent with the deadly desire. Fiona Roake is the lead of her trio of witches, becoming the hilariously snarky maternal figurehead over the other two bumbling, badgering bludge-heads; Roake truly shines in her emotionally exaggerated Lady Macbeth and her instant mood swings, using her manipulative tactics and husband’s love to corrupt him into making her queen. The two baby witches are played by John Forman and James Pratt respectively. Forman plays Macduff and King Duncan almost like brothers in a fantastic self-mirroring that is perfectly nuanced from the other, bumbling around onstage in complete oblivion as Macduff while spear-headedly aggressing ideas and persons onstage as Duncan. Banquo is played with a heroic air and self-righteous dignity by Pratt, highlighting the fact that sometimes being too pure is still a flaw; his heaven-gazing soliloquies and strong grace makes him convincing in his role, making his contrasting jokes all the funnier. However, it should be said that the piece itself seems to skim through the message it is telling of skewed politics, never really touching on the consequence of playing your cards in hope of hurting others for gain; messages are important in pantomimes as they are usually the idyllic educational platform for children, but the performances at moments did become a bit too self-invested to really impart these themes and ideas. Whether that be a flaw in performance inconsistency, style inconsistency or just script inconsistency, the show was still conclusively entertaining and enriching.
With an array of different instruments to the side exposed and accessible, our cast really flex their many muscles throughout the show in their creation of the soundscape. Interchanging who’s behind the line-up of drums and chimes and whatnots and thingamabobs depending on the scene, there is a near-constant underscore provided by the cast themselves that fits perfectly with the current moment, whether a marching drum or a poorly-tooted horn to alert of the incoming ditzy King Duncan. The convention of creating the sound live and quasi-improvised in plain view makes the show almost seem like a performance art piece, helping in the establishment of a casual, easy-natured but still very much professional show, only supporting its other tropes and conventions. A very smart choice, indeed.
Although they say it is Macbeth gone wrong, Macbeth is already Macbeth gone wrong. So maybe it is Macbeth gone wrong gone wrong? Meh, who cares. At the end of the day, it is still entertaining, it is still accessible, and it is still applicable today with its message. Don’t kill to achieve your dreams, don’t hang out with evil witches, and don’t be Trump. Easy.
Images: Jeff Busby