By Danielle Farrow
Brave Macbeth is a children’s show with plenty to appeal to adults as well, with use made, or so it sounded, of tunes from such greats as Les Miserables, Chicago and Phantom of the Opera. Minimal props and a bit of puppeteer work, along with decent costumes, were enough to create Macbeth’s world of threat and the supernatural.
On a couple of stages, a round one placed directly in front of the rectangular dais, and around the auditorium itself, the story of Shakespeare’s Macbeth unfolds, for the most part at speed, with some interaction with the audience. Playing with the threat of swords, fleeing through the rows of seats and getting a child to take heroic part in a sword chase, were all highlights for the audience, and decent use was made of entrances around the tent.
There are a lot of gags, most of which work very well, and along with lines from the original appearing, the modern telling is strongly rooted in detailed ideas from the play, such as Lady Macbeth saying of the sleeping Duncan that ‘he looks like my daddy’. All the plot points are clearly, and wittily, explained and pretty faithful except for the role of Lady Macbeth. Keeping her in the action and part of further dreadful deeds after the king’s murder, adds to the portrayal of complete evil (Macbeth’s own ambition barely shown) and makes her brief sleepwalking scene come out of absolutely nowhere. The fun of Lady M always preventing her husband from have a soliloquy would be even better if, after her death, he finally achieved one that was actually worth waiting for, rather than a song that wasn’t really apt, had been cobbled together from other plays and was not always intelligible.
While references to other plays might be considered enticements, to categorise Juliet as whiny and promote a classic error (that ‘wherefore’ means ‘where’ and not ‘why’) shows signs of a lack of responsibility towards what children will pick up, as do some of the facile gags, such as: Viola being told to stop wearing boys clothes because it’s ‘unnatural’; a pink so-called ‘nightgown’ coupled with a compliment meaning Macbeth’s speech becomes lisping and his manner effeminate; a derogatory reference to a man being a ‘fairy’.
Performances were strong overall, though a lack of connection and forward drive at the start meant it took a while for the audience, including the children, to become engaged. However, as individuals played with their characterisations, and momentum built, the clear storytelling and fun delivery gained attention and responses – exactly what a children’s show should do.
Brave Macbeth includes wit in its lyrics and script, plenty of laughs and a clear telling of Macbeth with mostly decent use made of original lines. It became an energetic piece of entertainment, when performers fully committed to the life in their characters, and it is a fun way to introduce children to one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays.
1-25 August (not 4, 11, 18), 11:00 (12:00) @ The Famous Spiegeltent