âElsie & Normâs Macbethâ, written by Englishman John Christopher-Wood and presented in Leipzig since December 2015 by the English Theatre at Neues Schauspiel under the direction of Tom Bailey, had already been reviewed on this blog. I attended the Shakespeare parody on December 19th, and disagree withÂ reviewers Stewart Tunnicliff and Christian Robert Broerse, who âheartedly recommendâ the piece. In the following, I will explain my reasons, so that if you consider going to see one of theÂ two final shows on January 15th orÂ 16th, and have read that first review, you may know yet a second opinion on what and what not to expect from âElsie & Normâs Macbethâ.
The plot in one sentence: Elsie and Norm are a middle-aged couple who, being tired of their everyday boredom, decide to perform their very own version of Shakespeareâs âMacbethâ in their living room, each of them taking on half of the roles.
In the leaflet of Neues Schauspiel, âElsie & Normâs Macbethâ is advertised by asserting that Shakespeare himself âwould be spinning in his grave at this version of one of the greatest pieces of British literature. Or he would be laughing his head off.â Good parodies do indeed lead to the latter. Britain, too, has accomplished quite a few such productions, among which Monty Pythonâs belong to the most ingenious ones.
One example is âMonty Python and the Holy Grailâ (1975), and âElsie & Normâs Macbethâ renders a lovely homage to it: Just like the âknightsâ in the film, the spouses pretend to ride on a horse by galloping with their legs and banging coconut shells together for the sound of the hooves. A parody of a parody, so to speak. But this is, to put it straight, practically allÂ this piece has in common with a good, memorable parody.
To be sure, I have nothing to say against the set, and little against the acting: To each of its only two actors, this piece assigns about half a dozen characters, with switches every few minutes. It thus demands versatility at a degree that both Lindsay Raggett (Elsie) and Justin Sands (Norm) deliver admirably. Just Raggettâs constant groaning in the role of (if I remember correctly) Banquo was soon getting on my nerves. However, even if the actors and the set were flawless otherwise, they couldnât possibly save the show from a flaw inherent in Christopher-Woodâs play: Itâs a bad play. Itâs uninspired, itâs childish, and lastly it even turns vulgar. In sum, itâs simply not funny, and thereby itâs not a good parody.
To really enjoy a parody, you must of course be somewhat familiar with the original work it makes fun of. But I fulfil this condition, since in my high school, less than a decadeÂ ago, we extensively dealt with âMacbethâ. My companion in the theatre that night also suggested that I may not understand British humour well enough. But Monty Python does make me laugh, and I can cite various other instancesÂ of that notoriousÂ humour that I find ten times as funny as Elsie and Normâs embarrassing comic attempts. Moreover, I wasÂ thrilled by the English Theatre Leipzigâs earlierÂ piece, âThe Mysterious Mr. Loveâ (also reviewed on this blog). So I perplexedly wonder why in the world the responsible people opted this time for a playÂ of such poor quality.
Most of its âjokesâ were so stale that they arenât worth being reproduced here. The one that yielded the most laughter from the audience was an inflatable sex doll, representing somebody’s son.Â If this was the highlight, you can conclude what the rest of the piece was like, and people seemed to applaud at the end merely out of politeness. Also the actors, by the way, failed at spicing up the whole nonsense by adding apparently improvised lines such as âthe King has bought this onlineâ. Seriously? I would bet that in high school in our lunch break âMacbethâ was spoofed by my classmates more skilfully than by the English Theatre Leipzig. Shakespeare would be âlaughing his head offâ? Thatâs, Iâm afraid, the only hilarious joke I have heard in the context of this production.