Presales for Goblin:Macbeth were so strong that Bard on the Beach extended the show’s run before it opened. But Goblin:Macbeth is a waste of time.
I understand the initial excitement. I shared it. The idea of goblins (weird and fantastical) performing Macbeth (dark and supernatural) was appealing. And the publicity photos, which feature outrageously ghoulish figures, set me up for a wild evening. I was pumped.
But here’s the thing: the figures in those photos look great because the actors are wearing latex masks. What you can’t tell from the pictures is that those masks are rigid. They completely obscure the actors’ faces: you can see their chins moving a bit, but that’s it. There’s no variation in their expressions and there’s zero lip movement. So the masks, which work beautifully in still images, are a disaster in the theatre.
This reduction of visual information throws greater attention on the words, but there are virtually no rewards there either.
The premise of this adaptation, which was created by Rebecca Northan with Bruce Horak, is that three goblins, who have stumbled upon the works of William Shakespeare, want to perform one of his plays so they can find out what it’s like to be human. The question of why they want to do that isn’t even considered. Nor are the results of their experiment. So the framing device is just an excuse to wear some masks.
Stylistically, Goblin:Macbeth quickly lands in a weird limbo: the goblin element is never outrageous, it’s rarely funny, and Shakespeare’s text is wasted.
Goblin:Macbeth is basically a two-hander: musician Ellis LaLonde speaks a few lines, but Bruce Horak plays Macbeth and Colleen Wheeler takes on all the other roles. There’s no depth or originality to Horak’s performance. And Wheeler, who has lots of experience with Shakespearean characterizations — as Bard regulars will know — is only marginally more successful. Her portraits, including a cowboy version of Banquo, are clearly delineated, but the adaptation’s approach undermines her emotional work, as it does with Horak’s. After murdering Duncan, Macbeth delivers his tormented “’Sleep no more!’” speeches. In this adaptation, Lady M replies with something like, “What do you mean? You keep describing sleep!” It’s not funny. And it pulls the rug out from under the drama.
There’s some audience involvement, but it’s low-stakes and pointless.
Good things … A couple of the jokes land. When Lady Macbeth is going after her husband with “Screw your courage to the sticking place,” he responds, “I’m feeling a little attacked right now.”
And the lighting is arresting. (Anton DeGroot gets the credit as original lighting designer and Michael K. Hewitt as the associate lighting designer.) In one of the splashier effects, every time Banquo’s ghost appears at the nobles’ feast, he is bathed in sudden washes of blood red — as he spins on a wheeled office chair.
In those moments, I saw flashes of the adventure I was hoping for.
GOBLIN:MACBETH Created by Rebecca Northan with Bruce Horak. Directed by Rebecca Northan. On Thursday, August 24. A Bard on the Beach production playing on the Howard Family Stage in the Douglas Campbell Theatre until September 17. Tickets and info
For the blind and those with limited vision, Vocal Eye will describe the performance on Sunday, September 10 at 2:00 p.m. (You’ve got to book tickets for that performance by September 1.)
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