'Macbeth - A Tale Told by an Idiot' Adapted and Performed by Eric Woolfe
Produced by Eldritch Theatre and now onstage at Red Sandcastle Theatre
Courtesy of Eldritch Theatre Facebook page
Should a classic tale of evil and violence be the subject of parody and buffoonery?
A new and unique production unfolds this week at the always alarming and provocative Eldritch Theatre at the Red Sandcastle Theatre in Toronto. Shakespeare’s bloody and shocking “Macbeth” is the perfect vehicle for this theatre always awash in horror, magic, trickery and ghastly puppetry.
“Macbeth – A Tale Told by an Idiot” is adapted and performed by the multi-talented Eric Woolfe whose talents do include the design of the former mentioned abhorrent puppets.
Should a classic tale of evil and violence be the subject of parody and buffoonery? – that question would advance a range of opinions. But Woolfe’s self-deprecating tone and his ability to balance elevated soliloquys with momentary satirical quips gave us entertaining insights to Shakespeare’s work.
Melanie McNeill’s set design fleshes out the macabre from the beginning. A motif of mysticism is described through bloody babies, Ouija boards, ugly skulls and torn tartan.
Eric Woolfe is, at times, cartoonish as part Uncle Fester and part Curly. With his puppets, he tells the well-known story of three brooding witches who manipulate the ambitious Macbeth and send him head long into the demise of murder, treachery and bloody infanticide. The pasty, fat-faced Macduff becomes the avenger. The murdered friend Banquo is portrayed as a naïve teddy bear along with a mini-bear as son Fleance.
The three witches are cleverly portrayed as almost one three level puppet – a nod to the theory that the witches and Macbeth are actually one entity. They stir up the original prophecy of the crown and then muddy the waters with promises that become hollow. Lady Macbeth’s puppet is dark and brackish – her original strength quickly oozing.
Woolfe’s theatrical capacity includes brilliant voice work. He plays Macbeth but also voices the variety of puppet characters. Macduff’s thick brogue and the whining of the witches are highlights among others.
As mentioned, there is a veneer of puerilism throughout as Woolfe finds momentary humour in the otherwise ugly revulsion of Macbeth’s acts. The only moment of comic relief in the original play – the porter’s speech – is thoroughly sent up. Shakespeare purists might scoff, but Woolf did do justice to many of the famous soliloquys with superb renderings.
Woolfe inserts fun with parlour style card and coin tricks which appear somewhat tawdry. Having said that, his use of coin tricks that leap off the face of his dead wife while he is performing the ‘Tomorrow’ speech was an eerie reminder of how Woolfe finds that balance between the risible and Shakespeare’s majestic solemnity.
Although I found no mention of who was responsible for the brilliant soundscape and sound effects, the work should be acknowledged. Especially when paired with puppetry, the sound effects enrich the performance. Highlights include the comic snoring of the drunken guards and the ominous sound of the hacking down of Birnham wood.
The earlier mentioned purists may revolt, but Shakespeare’s brilliance has been interpreted in thousands of ways over the centuries. This rendering was both entertaining and thoughtful.
“Macbeth – A Tale Told by an Idiot” by William Shakespeare. Adaptation by Eric Woolfe
Performer: Eric Woolfe
Director: Dylan Trowbridge
Set and costume design: Melanie McNeill
Lighting: Gareth Crew
Performance runs through – February 24, 2024.