Review: Just Macbeth ~ theatre notes

Friday, September 26, 2008

Review: Just Macbeth

Just Macbeth by Andy Griffiths and William Shakespeare, directed by Wayne Harrison. Design by Pip Runciman, lighting design by Martin Kinnane, sound design by Tony David Cray. With Patrick Brammall, Pippa Grandison, Mark Owen-Taylor, Tim Richards, Rhiannon Owen and John Leary. Bell Shakespeare. Playhouse Theatre, Victorian Arts Centre, until October 5. Seymour Centre, Sydney, October 8-26.

As anyone with the slightest acquaintance with a 10-year-old boy will know, the children’s author Andy Griffiths is a superstar. He has captured this notoriously book-shy demographic with titles like Bumageddon: The Final Pongflict or The Day My Bum Went Psycho, which feature shamelessly awful puns, bizarre imaginings and disgusting bodily fluids.

Among his most wildly popular books are his Just series (Just Stupid, Just Disgusting, and so on), which star the year 7 schoolboy Andy and his friends. I don’t know which genius commissioned Andy Griffiths to adapt Macbeth in the manner of these books, but they can have a whizz fizz on me.

One of the serious gaps in our theatre has been the lack of main stage theatre for children. Most often it’s hived off into educational programs or other worthy-sounding events, which of course have their value. But it’s crucial to develop audiences from a young age. And that means taking these young people seriously and including them, as European and English theatres do, in main stage programs.

Bell Shakespeare leads the way with this irrepressibly irreverent version of Macbeth, which appeals to the 10-year-old in all of us. Here the characters of the Just series, Andy (Patrick Brammall), Danny (Tim Richards) and Lisa (Pippa Grandison), find themselves studying Macbeth at school.

Andy’s response is, of course, to go to sleep. But under the spell of Lisa’s tyrannical charisma, he finds himself making the witch’s brew (eye of newt and toe of frog) for a school presentation, a scene which evoked all the appropriate ewww. Of course, the friends drink the potion. And then find themselves in mediaeval Scotland, magically transformed into the major characters in Shakespeare’s tragedy.

The serious subtext is that this is a brilliant way to introduce young audiences to Shakespeare. In between the fart jokes, expectorations of marshmallows and pantomime business, Griffiths demystifies the language, explains in simple and hilarious terms the function of soliloquies and outlines the action and motivations of the play.

He unobstrusively brings in Shakespeare’s speeches, so the transparency of Shakespeare’s language when it is spoken gradually becomes apparent. As does its robustness: the major speeches still retain a moving power, despite - or perhaps in part because - of this most disrespectful of treatments.

Any kids who later encounter Macbeth proper will be well primed. Most importantly, as my shining 10-year-old nephew attested afterwards, they’ll know that theatre can be brilliant fun.

It’s directed by Wayne Harrison with ingenuity and theatrical wit, and performed by a sharp and enthusiastic cast without a hint of patronising. For children of all ages.

This review appeared in yesterday's Australian.


Chris Boyd said...

Alex (age 6) was quoting the thing this avo. ("Double, double, toil & trouble.") You coulda blown me over with a punctured straw! (Still raving about his TWO bags of Whiz Fizz too.)

We were at Maccas (appositely) and APB was in full Geelong regalia. Singin' 'Black Betty'.

Renaissance Boy(d). heh!

Alison Croggon said...

That counts as SUCCESS. Now, for the next step, we await the Australian tour of David Tennant's Hamlet...

On Stage And Walls said...

David Tennant's Hamlet ... drooooool. Or as Alquist in the Cyberman version of RUR.

Paul Martin said...

Took the kid (7yo) and missus on Friday evening and we all (Alexander especially) loved it. Alexander especially was amused by the bit about not needing underpants in heaven. One day I'll show him Polanski's Macbeth.

Jonathan Shaw said...

I went yesterday afternoon with a 14 yr old friend who HATED Macbeth when he WAS FORCED to study it, but has always loved Andy Griffiths. We all had a great time. I laughed like a drain at the bit but not needing underpants, and I'm 61. I loved the way the Seymour Centre audience clearly felt they owned the show, feeling completely free to chat among themselves, call out cheekily in response to the actors' questions. And you know, they were completely silent for 'Tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow'!

Anonymous said...

I am so sad that the season of this show is over. I took two 10 year old girls on Saturday night and three of us laughed continuously and have been reliving our favourite bits ever since (including quoting from Andy's first soliloquy and telling everyone under the sun that they got to see Banquo's bare bottom). I want to recommend it to so many people but don't know when they will get a chance to see it. Are there any plans for a repeat season, does anyone know?