'Goblin: Macbeth' Created by Rebecca Northan and Bruce Horak
Now onstage in the Studio Theatre at the Stratford Festival
An often deliciously wacky and sometimes unpredictable look at a Shakespearean tragedy that, at times, is just plain ol’ fun. There's an endearing quirkiness to 'Goblin: Macbeth'.
Is it possible to have fun watching a Shakespearean tragedy? That’s quite an oxymoron.
Anyway, I sure did.
In this Ontario premiere, three goblins, Wug, Cragva and Moog, will perform ‘Macbeth’ to see if they can learn more about this Shakespeare fellow from their ‘Good Book’ - ‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.’ They have read it from cover to cover and discover he knows a lot about goblins, fairies, monsters, wood nymphs and all creatures. Wug, Cragva and Moog also hope that in the performance of ‘Macbeth,’ they will learn more about human nature. Wug plays the central character and several other roles. Cragva plays Lady Macbeth and several different parts. Moog plays supporting characters and provides musical and sound accompaniment.
Why have the Goblins selected ‘Macbeth’? It’s the shortest one in running time.
That’s it for the plot.
Don’t worry if you can’t recall anything about the play because the Goblins will give you three essential pieces of plot information to remember.
Rebecca Northan directs with a signature panache and flair for misbehaviour with the text. She has the actors constantly on the move throughout the intimate Studio Theatre. Using improvisation, the macabre, the fantastic and the tragic moments of the Bard’s play, Northan and Bruce Horak adhere to the original text we all know. Nevertheless, their text sharply nails and pierces several contemporary references that made me laugh out loud. One of them was the current state of the Ontario education system. Another had to do with trying to understand all 100+ genders in our woke world today. A third deals with which pronoun people prefer to use.
‘Goblin: Macbeth’ thankfully never veers from its course to tell the story. The actors have given internal permission to each other to stop the plot action for a few minutes. If they halt the action, it better be for a good reason.
There are good reasons for the halts. The actors make these stops work. Skillfully.
First, they are having fun with the words and context of the scene. They know something about improvisation and when to permit themselves to use it. However, the three of them are not mere clowns. They remain acutely aware of what’s coming next and how that momentary improv can heighten interest in the next scene. Wug, Cragva and Moog never allow their playfulness to derail from telling the story. There are moments when all three poignantly heighten the tragedy of the moment.
Thus, ‘Goblin: Macbeth’ remains just plain ol’ good fun. Combine all this above and mix it in a cauldron of cool, nippy, and frosty night air. You have the makings of a terrific fall theatre evening outdoors and indoors.
Part of the fun occurs a half hour before show time when the three pull up in a car and park with one wheel lodged over the curb outside the Studio Theatre. Their grand ghostlike entrance is initially mysterious, as it looks as if they might be coming to take the world over. They comically interact with the audience outside.
The ensuing hilarity continues inside the Studio as the three begin to set up for tonight’s performance while mingling and interacting with the audience. Some ask politely for selfies, and these creatures are happy to oblige. Take a few minutes; sit back and watch the three do during the pre-show. It’s most entertaining.
In her Director's Note, Northan makes an interesting comment about not knowing who any of the actors are in a production. She discourages the audience from seeking out their identity. Instead, allow the actors to work their magic on the audience and let their performance hit us in new ways about ‘Macbeth.’
What a novel idea! It works for me! Magnificently!
I will respect what Northan asks and not seek out the identity of the players. (Side note: I know who they are, and if you are interested in cheating, go here: (https://www.ourtheatrevoice.com/items/rebecca-northan. )
The facial coverings by Composite Effects remain stunning. I couldn’t take my eyes off them. You can see the veins running through. True, the masks do appear ghastly at first, but that soon ebbs away, and they become a natural part of what we are witnessing in front. There is some give and take in the face when the actors speak. Philip Edwards’ costume designs are stark, subtle, futuristic reminders of the jet-black clothing worn by Keanu Reeves in ‘The Matrix.’ Anton deGroot’s specifically focused lighting effectively reveals an impending sense of doom throughout.
These ‘unknown’ actors become masterful storytellers. They listen intently and never upstage each other. Their comic moments are beautifully timed, especially at one point when they ask Stage Manager Lili to turn on the spotlight. But, as Northan states in her Director’s Note: “The pairing of tragedy with humour, as Shakespeare intended, is a profoundly human impulse that highlights the horror, while allowing us to bear it.” This line speaks volumes when the audience learns Lady Macbeth dies. Someone gasped as if he/she/they weren’t expecting it. There was complete silence in the house. My eyes were fixed on Wug when he delivered Macbeth’s ‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow’ speech with tremendous dignity in remembering his wife - such tenderness and compassion.
Final Comments: As a retired English Language and Literature teacher, ‘Goblin: Macbeth’ challenged me to revisit why I chose to pursue an undergraduate degree long ago in the Arts and Humanities.
I can now recall why - to appreciate the sound and meaning of words, either in print or hearing them spoken.
The production is a terrific way to get young people to appreciate and enjoy the works and words of William Shakespeare. Be aware that some adult humour with language may be unsuitable for anyone under 16.
Teachers, you should call the Box Office to see if there are matinees and if some wording might be re-phrased.
For weekend matinee and evening performances, rush now to get tickets because I hear they're selling quickly.
Running time: approximately one hour and 40 minutes with no intermission. (Make sure you go to the bathroom before)
The production runs until October 28 in the Studio Theatre at the Stratford Festival, 34 George Street, Stratford. For tickets, stratfordfestival.com or call 1-800-567-1600.
A Spontaneous Theatre creation and part of the Meighen Forum
GOBLIN: MACBETH Created by Rebecca Northan with Bruce Horak
Directed by Rebecca Northan
Musician: Ellis Lalonde
Costume Designer: Philip Edwards
Masks: Composite Effects
Props Designer: Hanne Loosen
Original Lighting Designer: Anton DeGroot
Stage Manager: Lili Beaudoin
Performers: Wug, Cragva, Moog