BELL SHAKESPEARE present JUST MACBETH! by Andy Griffiths at the SEYMOUR CENTRE.
To quote from the publicity postcard: "Bell Shakespeare’s JUST MACBETH! By Andy Griffiths is a really silly version of Shakespeare’s great big gory tragedy starring Andy, Lisa, Danny, and (yuck!) Jen from the JUST TRICKING!, JUST STUPID!, JUST SHOCKING! books. It’s got six funny but tragic actors, a garden gnome, and a severed head that talks Shakespearean. Plus, there are witches, WIZZ FIZZ, ghosts, girl germs, and weird Elizabethan things like soliloquies and sharp swords and other things beginning with S. An hilarious and irreverent take on one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, JUST MACBETH! will have you and your family in stitches!"
Now, for once, I would say all that publicity spin is accurate and more so. I had a really delightful time at the performance of JUST MACBETH! last Saturday. A full house of kids and myself and their parents and/or relatives!!!!!! Not since watching a production of Ken Cambell’s hilarious kid’s piece OLD KING COLE have I had such an unrestrained response to broad comedy. Entertainment plus.
Andy Griffiths, a highly successful (nationally and internationally) and prize winning author of children’s literature under commission to The Bell Shakespeare Company, under the Direction of Wayne Harrison, has written a play where six young kids explore in their English class MACBETH. Using the irreverent humour of the books, Griffiths has found a way to tell the story of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and some of the tricks of the literature forms in the play, to introduce the audience to Shakespeare. It is entirely triumphant. The classroom humour of the books and the marrying with usage of the Shakespeare text is wonderfully blended and as clear as a bell. Educationally, the objective ought to have been achieved abundantly. The young audience were in raptures of laughter and shock, and attentive and absorbed in the story telling of the original play. The moral questions were all suitably dealt with and a very good time was had by all if you register the applause and the buzz of the audience afterwards. It was certainly one of the best occasions I have had at a Bell Company production for some time. (See Hamlet.)
This is the second production of Wayne Harrison’s I have seen this year, CODGERS being the other. The same assured hand that guided us through the writing of Don Reid takes the wheel in this very difficult territory of Spoof and Respect. The text is wonderfully balanced, the Set and Costumes (Pip Runicman) wonderfully suited and useful, supported by Sound that is witty and great fun (Tony David Cray) and Lighting (Martin Kinnane) that is robustly comically bright to serve the material and atmospheres of the piece. Mr Harrison’s adeptness in casting and his firm but sensitive management of the actors represents a skill that younger director’s, still learning the “trade” ,should observe. He provokes outrageous choices but has the great gift, that a Director of this sort of material requires in abundance, tasteful restraint. It is often demented in its comedy but it always has a sense of deliberation. Mr Harrison knows he has two hours of play here and he never lets his cast and audience get out of control and so we are guided and sustained through both those hours with a freshness that gives us the resources to endure the comic potential of the entire play. I felt as excited at the end as I was at the beginning and his young audience stayed with the play with an undying appetite and an eager expectation of the next moment, no matter how hard they had laughed the moment before. The young audience’s concentration was palpable. This is comic skill of a high order.
The Company of six actors are all to be admired for their sense of wit, skill and stamina. This work is no easy task. Rhiannon Owen, Mark Owen-Taylor, Pippa Grandison, John Leary, Tim Richards, and Patrick Brammall are all masterful in their concentration and commitment to the play. There greatest skill is their unselfconsciousness in the playing of kids of an age considerably their junior. It is their considerable belief in that area of their characterisations that captures the audience of all ages and takes us effortlessly into the world of the play. Not ever, do I feel condescension or judgement, these actors are who the play tells us they are, from the deliriously silly fun of making a witches potion in a blender, to the conversations with the garden gnome playing Macduff, to the bare bum exposure in heaven where everything is good and possible, to the quoting of the Shakespearean text, especially Patrick Brammall’s moving (relatively) handling of the “Tomorrow and Tomorrow” soliloquy, I felt respected and secure.
John Leary is the most robustly coarse of our actors in this production. Coarse, as a compliment to his vaudevillian inclinations. He is required to play a multiplicity of roles and all of them are expertly handled including Jen’s Other Friend, Lennox and brilliantly, NURSE- a wonderful recreation of a look alike Barbara Windsor in the CARRY ON DOCTOR series of films, which both the adults in the audience and the kids relished immensely, hopefully, for different reasons.
Patrick Brammall, in the leading role responsibility of Andy / Macbeth, threads his way expertly through the demands of crazy farce to the serious task of leading us through a lot of the Shakespearean text. He has both the naughtiness of Andy and the intelligence and balance to play Macbeth and truly "educate" the young audience. His Stamina is breathtaking in its resource. An heroic presence.
Next, I would like to talk about Tim Richards who plays Danny /Banquo. Here is an actor that I have had the opportunity to watch over many years. Mr Richards sense of comedy is a joy to behold. He has the gift to commit to the most outrageous choice and yet withhold with delicate comic restraint so that comedy and empathy are all endowed on his offers, by his audience. He has the qualities of a mixture of Harold Lloyd and Charles Chaplin. Physically, he has the precision of a great dancer - one of the distinctions that Chaplin had as a creator. He makes you laugh and yet he strikes such chords of deep humanity that you could follow the famous Chekhovian instruction of “laughing through tears” of recognition, in response to his offers. He has a comic dignity that given greater opportunity is worth nurturing. His "bum" moment and his gliding across the stage on his skate board exit is heavenly! and a gem in my recent bench marks of going to the theatre.
This is a highly recommended experience for all ages.
Playing now until 26 October. Book online or call 02 9351 7940.