Review: MACBETH: Walking Shadows

by Lynn on August 20, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Withrow Park, Toronto, Ont.

Written by William Shakespeare
Adapted by Brendan McMurtry-Howlett and the Ensemble
Directed by Brendan McMurtry-Howlett
Puppet/Production Design by Zach Fraser
Performed by: Alexander Crowther
Tara Koehler
Kaitlin Morrow
Seann Murray
Andrew Joseph Richardson
Kaitlyn Riordan

A very cut down version of Shakespeare’s play with some inventive puppetry but the actual acting of the small cast is little more than shouting.

The Story. It’s the Macbeth story but very truncated. Macbeth is a mighty warrior who is told by three witches that he will rise up in the ranks and will become king. His friend Banquo will beget kings. Macbeth is an ambitious man and wants his due now. So with his wife urgings he kills the king who advanced him and begins his bloody way to the throne. He is finally thwarted as such folks usually are but not before there are other killings and the death of his wife.

The Production. The program note describes the setting as “the near future, the environment has collapsed. Civilization as we know it has ruptured and been reduced to scraps. Pollution is widespread, famine and drought are a constant, resources are scarce and competition is fierce…..” In other words it really is a description of parts of our world today. Ok. Except that this production takes place in the lovely Withrow Park, amongst the trees and so the suggestion of the setting doesn’t quite work here. So let’s just accept that it’s Macbeth, a bloody play about a very ambitious man and his equally ambitious wife.

Director Brendan McMurtry-Howlett loves the use of puppets. He feels that something magical happens when a puppet is used to convey some aspect of a production. The audience uses its imagination and breaths life into the puppet as the puppet begins its journey through a play. No argument there. So he wondered “what would happen if we went on that journey with a character like Macbeth….” in fact in which every character is a puppet manipulated and voiced by an actor; in which ‘everyone involved…had been asked to do something they’ve never done before whether it’s Shakespeare or puppetry– or both at the same time.” I certainly can appreciate the challenge each participant has had to deal with in realizing this production. But I have to say that aside from some really impressive puppet creations (kudos to Zach Fraser), and the manipulation of them, the actual acting of the text is a huge disappointment.

The acting is reduced to shouting lines. The poetry in the words is non-existent, as is nuance. Too often characters grunt/gasp before they speak, as in a forced HA HA HA sound. I have no idea what that is supposed to mean.

I do appreciate director Brendan McMurtry-Howlett’s enthusiasm for the production; for the idea of using puppets; his visual sense, splashing purple, red and blue lights on the trees that look forbidding as the sun sets and it gets dark; for the interesting depiction of the death of Lady Macbeth. But I so wish that he could have actors who could handle both the text and the puppets.

Cutting the play but still keeping its integrity is a challenge. But cutting Lady Macbeth’s vital line that she would have killed Duncan herself if he hadn’t looked so much like her father, just takes away the first part of her journey to madness. Troubling.

Comment. It is a huge undertaking: doing Shakespeare in a park with actors who manipulate puppets. It doesn’t work here. Better luck next time. But I do look forward to whatever Mr. McMurtry-Howlett has in store for us next year.

Produced by Shakespeare in the Ruff

Opened: Aug. 19, 2015
Closes: Aug. 30, 2015
Cast: 6; 3 men, 3 women
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission

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1 Luiz October 29, 2015 at 9:39 am

Weren’t you in MacBeth???? The ensemble scene??? Shame on you for not rnaeidg the play!!!!!!!!!And I’m done lecturing you now. We have been enjoying smoothies and whole wheat toast and loving every bite!