by Lynn on October 15, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Studio Theatre, Stratford Festival, Stratford, Ont. Part of the Meighen Forum. On until Oct. 28, 2023.

Created b Rebecca Northan and Bruce Horak

Directed by Rebecca Northan

Musician, Ellis Lalonde

Costume design by Philip Edwards

Masks by Composite Effects

Props by Hanne Loosen

Original lighting by Anton DeGroot

Stage Manager, Lili Beaudoin (she is heavily involved in other ways in this epic)

Performers: Bruce Horak

Ellis Lalonde

Rebecca Northan

Three Goblins: Wug, Cragva and Moog discover the horror and humanity of humans when they (the Goblins) discover a copy of the “Complete Works of William Shakespeare.” They decide they will also explore the world of theatre by performing the play Macbeth because it’s the shortest. (Actually, to be pedantic about it, Macbeth is the shortest of Shakespeare’s tragedies. The shortest play by Shakespeare is The Comedy of Errors. Google says so. It never lies. And I’m grateful to the Goblins for making me curious to look it up.)

I note one of the Goblins is sculking furtively around the lobby, making comments in a gravelly voice. This gives the humans in the lobby a chance to become familiar with ‘the look.’ The Goblin wears a mask that tightly covers the head and the face down to the neck. The head is bald with an octagon design etched on that back of the head. The ears are very long and pointed. The nose is very long, broad and pointed. There are black lines on the face and between the brow that give a sense of foreboding or aggravation. The lips are black. There is a little opening for the mouth but for the most part the mask leaves little room for facial expression. The costume is black with black pants and boots.

The other two Goblins are already in the theatre as the audience files in. They are masked the same way but with subtle differences in the face. The third Goblin joins the other two and they flit around the stage which is full of stuff: a boom box, three moveable large mirrors, one of which has a covering over it, a section upstage with lots of musical instruments and a stand microphone.  

One cannot tell the gender of these Goblins unless they speak. Two sound like men, one is gruffer than the other. The third sounds like a woman. While the director’s note said that the actors did not want to be associated with any character (for anonymity), one can assume the gruff voiced one is Bruce Horak, the not as gruff voice is Ellis Lalonde (and a hint here is that this is the Goblin who plays all the music, including a French café ditty(!), and the voice that sounds like a woman is Rebecca Northan.

Two women in the front row do something to lead the Goblins to declare that one is a witch and they bow down. They say her feet should be elevated and put a low box down so her feet can rest on it. They also race out to get her another glass of Vino. The improvisation is smooth, imaginative, quick-witted and nimble.

When the show starts, we are told by the Goblins that they find the human’s pre-occupation with gender, amusing. The Goblins say there are in fact 17 genders. That sounds good to me. They say that they have discovered a lot about humans when they discovered “The Collected Works of William Shakespeare,” and certainly Macbeth.

The Goblins begin the story by telling the audience that Scotland is at war with Norway. Macbeth is one of the leading soldiers. Then the three Goblins get ‘into it’ by playing various parts to tell the story.

The action is swift. Witches prophecy the future of Macbeth and Banquo, his companion in arms. When one of the prophecies comes true Macbeth gets antsy for more power; brave and murderous. His wife joins him.  Props are used with imagination—those mirrors are twirled for great effect. Music is played for example on accordion and a kazoo—at the same time!! The three Goblins riff off one another—are they improvising? Is it scripted? It’s all accomplished, brilliant and mischievous. They chide each other—one is out there playing three parts, it’s exhausting.

Macbeth is acted with a gruff, strong voice, vigor, conviction and power. Lady Macbeth has a softer voice, has the ability to manipulate and control and does a good job with Macbeth when it comes to the murders of her ‘house guests.’

Matters ramp up when the battle lines are drawn. Macbeth is over there in Dunsinane with his forces and the two Goblins representing the opposing forces are center stage, needing an army. Where will they get an army? They do a slow pan to the audience (this is not a spoiler alert. Where else are you going to get an army on short notice in a small town?). The audience will be engaged in the action.  

Besides open-heart surgery or a trip to the dentist, nothing strikes terror in the hearts of an audience more than these two words: “audience participation.” Goblin:Macbeth has audience participation. Lots of it. DO NOT RUN AWAY!!! You are in good hands here.  

Rebecca Northan and Bruce Horak are master improvisors. They know how to engage an audience with consideration, care and respect. They have perfected the ability to look at an audience and sensitively know who is eager to participate (the hopeful eyes, the eager looks, the smile that says, “PICK ME!!!!”) and who does not want you anywhere near them in their ‘safe space’ in the audience (eyes averted, head down, telegraphing the thought: “Come near me under peril of your privates!”) These Goblins will not make you feel uncomfortable or awkward. These Goblins will make you eager to participate if you want to. That is one of their many gifts.

The Goblin who sounds like Rebecca Northan scurries up the steep stairs of the theatre to the middle of the audience. She asks the whole group if they are familiar with the name of this forest. Many put up their hands. She asks: “Are they familiar with that place over there?” They are and say the name. She asks: “What can we do to rally and charge that place over there?” Again, not a spoiler alert, it’s in the wonderful trailer…..(lighten up!) The suggestions come fast and loose. Props are provided by an eager audience. Momentum builds. Lighting flashes and changes to accompany the battle and the resolution.

The Goblins teach us a lesson about humanity and the power of theatre in their witty, irreverent, and committed presentation of this glorious production. They talk about how we all came in with our own individual stories, our own separate lives and in the end we were all breathing at the same time and our hearts were beating as one as well, a unified community. I found that observation so moving it took my breath away.

Goblin:Macbeth is a theatrical gift.

The Meighen Form of the Stratford Festival presents:

Plays until Oct. 28, 2023.

Running time: about 2 hours (no intermission)

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