Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸
Stage Splinters are a vibrant theatre company who premise their work as the telling of ‘untold stories’. Whether that be an old tale in a totally new way, or the staging of an entirely new narrative. They intend to be definitive storytellers who create worlds for their audiences and most importantly, provoke thought. Well it can’t get more fresh and exciting than a boldly re-imagined version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The narrative here, is presented congruently in puppet and song form by only four actors, the adaptation taking on a unique perspective by determinately focussing on how the other characters are affected by Macbeth’s actions. It sounds bonkers and let us be there first to tell you, that it is!
Adapted by Chuma Emembolu and Ruth Nicolas, this new musical-comedy is wonderfully self-aware. It juxtaposes satire, smut and profanity with a largely operatic score and classic tale, condensing the narrative to cover the main plot points. Instead of dwindling on Macbeth himself, it explores the non-speaking, (or barely-speaking) characters such as the women and servants. Not only does this make the story more accessible, (the narrative arc of Macbeth‘s ascension to corruptive power remaining simplified and easy to follow), the characters developed behind the crown provide an abundance of depth and weight to the story, engendering more empathy than Macbeth ever could as a man who was tempted to kill by fate and subsequently falls into descent. A clever and enigmatic concept taking Macbeth from tragedy to comedy.
Stylistically, the work seemingly pays homage to the puppetry and essence of Avenue Q. Firstly in the phenomenal design of the puppets. Much like the Lyon Puppets servicing the many productions of Avenue Q around the world, the puppet design here, showcases vibrantly coloured, geometric, human-like figures, their shape and features fiercely resembling the residents of Avenue Q. These, like Lyon’s are operated by a single rod with one arm posed, as a double rod, or instead, they are a live hand puppet. Additionally, much like Avenue Q, the piece is a conundrum of versatile actors successfully multi-rolling. With assistance, they occasionally even change characters whilst onstage. Furthermore, as aforementioned there is an abundance of satire, wit and profanity making the production as outspoken and unapologetic as Avenue Q is. This devised work blisteringly not shying away from the problematics of the source material. Instead it cleverly pokes fun at the moral ambiguities or rashness of the character’s decisions and their variegated motivations. The result is a severely modernised production that allows for a comparative view between then and now to be drawn, another wonderful step closer to making Shakespeare accessible to all. It wittily touches on topics such as toxic masculinity, rape culture and the corruptive nature of power. Design-wise, much like Avenue Q, television screens are hung and utilised to present various cartoon storyboards, helping to situate scenes or move the narrative along. These intricate, sketched animations are also underscored well by the sound design.
Unfortunately, what Macbeth the Musical doesn’t have from Avenue Q, is it’s score. This is practically none existent. Which is kind of an issue for a piece billed as a musical. There is an abundance of songs, but unfortunately no stand-out or remotely memorable compositions materialise. In fact, most of the numbers sound exactly the same and though there are moments of glimmering harmony, for the most part it regrettably sounds like operatic wailing with no real purpose or structure. The operatic style, does however give a charming nod towards the story being a timeless classic. Subsequently, this style doesn’t particularly show off the actors voices well either. Although it is apparent Eloise Jones and Red Picasso have exceptional vocal talents. However, this isn’t to say the performances weren’t strong. The cast prove themselves to be wonderfully versatile and adroit performers. Eloise Jones’ Lady Macbeth is formidable, she is a powerful and expressive performer displaying beautiful intricacies in her physicality and demeanour. Whilst Elliott Moore’s comedic timing shines, he is a smart and emphatic actor. Alongside them, Bryony Reynolds and Red Picasso are exceedingly dexterous performers, able to instantaneously switch between personas whilst adding a vividness to their delivery. Reynold’s Rose, the servant girl is an especially enchanting character, delivered beautifully and brilliantly written/directed.
Macbeth the Musical certainly needs a lot of work, it felt a little rushed in parts, somewhat diminishing the humour and meaning-making and definitely lacked a sizzling score. However, it has moments that are incredibly humorous or poignant and is a good concept. All it needs is a little development. The show runs at White Bear Theatre until Saturday 7th September, click here to book now.
Director: Chuma Emembolu
Adaptation: Chuma Emembolu and Ruth Nicolas
Stage Manager: Sophia Start
Assistant Director: Gwenan Bain
Music: Stefan Potiuk
Lighting and Sound Design: Chuma Emembolu Animation: Lizzy Rogers
Movement Director: Eloise Jones
General Manager: Faye Maughan
Associate Producer: Laura Shoebottom
Elliott Moore: Macbeth, John
Eloise Jones: Lady Macbeth, Madison, Agnes, John
Bryony Reynolds: Rose, Breanna, Duncan
Red Picasso: Macduff, Conleth, Banquo, Agnes