What happens when #StageAndScreen writer Stewart Tunnicliff, #Literature writer Christian Robert Broerse and #Music writer Kapuczino have a cultural Saturday night out? Well, lots of laughs, intelligent discussion and maybe a fine spirit or two. The trio gives us an insight into their experience of English Theatre Leipzig’s latest production, “Elsie & Norm’s Macbeth” directed and produced by Tom Bailey.
Macbeth is probably one of my favourite Shakespeare plays, but to flip a tragedy with a comedy twist is very brave. What did you think of this approach and stripping it to the bare bones?
Christian Robert Broerse:
I think it was done with affection and even ‘naked’, in the middle class living room of an English couple, replete with props such as stuffed panda bears and a vacuum cleaner, wigs and tartan, it came off as irreverently reverent. In this world of Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones and binge-watching television series, it is nice to return to a classic, to shake it up, to appreciate it in a world of streaming, Internet and satellite providers. This bare approach reminded me of how much I too, enjoy the play. As if by being the spectators to this couple’s two-person production, we were participating in the joy of theatre, in the joy of the imagination. I think less is more and I loved it and I think the actors loved it. I would call this play a love letter and a parody. What were your thoughts regarding the changing roles and how the two actors handled and adapted to their parts?
The role changes would have been a challenge for any consummate actor, and the palette of characters and accents they painted from were colourful, exuberant and with a tint of cultural depreciation. The exaggerated gestures and comedy voices, along with an array of physical props, music and lighting (in themselves props) made for a well thought out direction from Tom. A shade of improv could be seen in the referential way Justin poked fun at Lindsay’s gravely voice. This interplay, and how she pulled it off against the odds, in some ways outdid her previous acting in the Alan Bennet monologue. Her strep throat even added an extra depth to her Scottishness. What impressed me the most was the way you could tell the two actors were close-knit, weaving their way through the various character changes and bouncing off each other and their comedy duo playful vibe. They were like a double act, Justin being more the straight man and Lindsay the crazy comic. The homey feel of Elsie and Norm drew you into their living room, and the conversational feel contradicted well with their other mad hat capers. I really love how this kind of approach weaves a fabric of interaction with the audience. How well do you think they pulled off weaving the story through this modern take on it?
Christian Robert Broerse:
I like how it began with the Elsie as one of the witches. Kneeling there on the floor, in her cleaning apron over a glass bowl. We are so used to modern adaptations of plays. I think of the film versions of Romeo and Juliet with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes or Ethan Hawke playing Hamlet, Denmark a computer company. In a way, I was expecting this kind of adaptation, serious and brooding but placed in modern suburbia. And kudos to Lindsay for playing a woman, a character that is in turn acting but truly devoted to her role. I could tell Lindsay loved her role of a woman in love with her amateur theatrics. There was the spirit of Shakespeare in that first scene and I had goosebumps. But I couldn’t stop smiling after I found out what kind of play I was in for. And in regard to your question, the weaving felt effortless. The scenes and acts flew by smoothly with each actor doing their exits and returning as someone else, a revolving door of appearances that kept the play from feeling static. I never felt lost as an audience member because in a sense the two roles, by breaking the fourth wall, kept the audience involved and by offering their own opinions, though most of them from Norm, it truly felt like we were their friends. Here, they were saying, we are tired of the same old, same old but then here’s Shakespeare and sure, he wrote a lot and we enjoy his work but we don’t really understand a lot. And that’s okay and let’s have fun but also, let’s take a step back and look at this.
I agree. The breaking of the fourth wall as you mentioned is not easy to pull off well without it coming across as either too artsy, high brow or ill thought out. The case not being so here. There was nothing really out of place, even the use of rap music for the murders, which still has me grinning from ear to ear. Thank you for taking the time to do this review my fellow columnist, I think we can both safely say we heartedly recommend getting down to the Neues Schauspiel to see this one. The next one being at 8 p.m. on Saturday the 19th Dec.
Christian Robert Broerse:
And thank you for having me. Happy writing.
Here’s a taste of the character extravaganza in a photo series by Kapuczino