White Bear Theatre, Kennington, London, 07/09/2019.
Despite admiring the text of the play an enormous amount Macbeth has been responsible for two of my most miserable theatre going experiences. One production I saw back in the early nineties contained no props or costumes and was one of the most painful and tedious nights of my life, while a school play version my secondary school put on almost led to my death as an out of control smoke machine nearly gassed the audience, and in some ways I wish it had as the acting on display was so awful.
But despite this as soon as I heard that there was a musical version of the production performed by Muppet style puppets I booked a ticket immediately as I’m always up for something absurd and silly and potentially awful. As it goes it’s a mostly successful adaptation of the play, nearly all in modern language and with songs that are largely upbeat and enjoyable, none of them are the kind of numbers that you’ll find yourself humming on the way home but they’re definitely likeable and often fairly funny.
This is an Avenue Q style affair where the puppeteers take to the stage dressed in black, and structurally it’s often faithful to Shakespeare’s original work from the three witches appearing at the beginning to the Scottish couple’s deaths in the final scenes. There are some pretty major differences though in that it sometimes tells the tale from the perspective of the servants of Macbeth and his good wife, it’s a device which generally works effectively and allows for some cute analogies with modern day politics – there’s a reference to “Making Scotland Great Again” for instance, and the suggestion that it might be time for a female leader once again.
There is one odd misstep though in that one of the servants, Rose, sings a haunting lament at the beginning of the second act which ends with her admitting that she was raped by MacDuff. It’s not that I have an issue with any play exploring such an issue, but it’s tonally inconsistent with everything that’s come before it and what comes after too, with the following scene featuring Macbeth joking about how much he loves eating quiche and Lady Macbeth mocking his greed, and writers Chuma Emembolu & Ruth Nicolas don’t explore it any further either, other than a brief reference right at the end, so it feels rather out of place.
It’s not in any way a major issue, it just feels like a slightly strange decision to include such a moment in a production which is mostly frivolous and lightweight. Yes, there’s some political satire and commentary on toxic masculinity but it’s fairly flimsy stuff, and the majority of the play is a lot of daftness revolving around Macbeth and his wife’s murderous ways, and it also includes a fair bit of silliness with one of the three witches fancying Macbeth and supposedly objectifying him, along with jokes about how the prophecies are so specifically worded, so I can’t quite understand why they chose to include it.
Still, it’s a minor issue, overall this is a fun if slightly throwaway musical, and one which is extremely well performed by a game cast with Elliott Moore, Eloise Jones, Bryony Reynolds and Red Picasso all having not only strong vocals but impressive puppeteering skills. The script contains a lot of very funny lines and the songs are well sung and amiable material, and though I doubt this will ever transfer to the West End if it’s ever restaged and you’re a fan of musical theatre than I imagine it’s a version of the Scottish play that you’ll find pretty damn appealing.