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undercurrents: Macbeth Muet in praise of silliness

By Brian Carroll on February 20, 2016


Macbeth Muet (speechless Macbeth), playing at the undercurrents festival, is an almost wordless abridged version of Shakespeare’s tragedy. Most of the main plot elements are there, from the three witches to the final battle scene. Some major elements are missing, but they are surprisingly few. To reveal them would be to give spoilers.

Photo courtesy of undercurrents.

Photo courtesy of undercurrents.

Let me compliment performers Marie-Hélène Bélanger and Jon Lachlan Stewart of La fille du laitier theatre company. This is the silliest production of Macbeth I’ve ever seen. And it is well-crafted silliness.

It’s also the most abridged Macbeth I’ve ever seen. At 60 minutes, it is one-sixth the length of some productions. This is quite a feat, considering that they’ve added two prologues to the play.

Macbeth Muet is essentially a silent film version of Macbeth, but in live performance. There are few word cues to the action, but a modest knowledge of the plot and characters will let you recognize the major constituents of Macbeth. The more you recognize, the more you appreciate the clever design choices (props, sound design, costumes) for this low cost production that remains faithful to the main story.

Macbeth Muet has one of the advantages of silent film. If you studied Macbeth in translation from English, you can follow the action because the performers use none of Shakespeare’s words. They use very few words (written not spoken): a few handfuls of English and one word of French.

Don’t come expecting profound insights into The Scottish Play. There will be no “So that’s what this play’s about!” moment. In fact, a Coles Notes knowledge of Macbeth is necessary to appreciate how many of the important scenes are included. They whip by at a brisk pace. This isn’t Macbeth for Beginners. But if you’ve seen a recent production of Macbeth (live or recorded), you won’t get lost (or not much anyway).

Many of the Macbeth productions I’ve seen have failed to present a passionate and believable picture of the relationship between the Macbeths. I’m happy to report that the passion between these lovers is one of the strengths of Macbeth Muet.

Another strength is the delightfully creative (and cheap) design choices that festoon the stage. For instance, Lady Macbeth’s “gown” for formal occasions is an unexpected take-off on the “little black dress”. Simple folded-paper children’s toys represent the three witches, the crown of Scotland, and the prophecy of Macbeth and Banquo. Styrofoam plates become shields, characters and formal dinner plates. The cast of two are supplemented by dozens of characters represented by foodstuffs and styrofoam cups. The Egg Marketing Board should be a sponsor! Rolls of paper towels have uses so creative that there would be spoilers if I revealed them.

And who knew that the old man could have so much blood in him?

I don’t claim to have caught all the allusions to the original, but part of the fun is to pat yourself on the back for how many you do catch. See it with friends so you can chat about it afterwards.

Let’s be clear. Although there were many chuckles in the audience on opening night, Macbeth Muet is more silliness than laugh out loud comedy. This is a light-hearted pastiche. Shakespeare would probably approve.

Most of the offerings at this year’s undercurrents are serious message-laden works, though they have their comic moments. Even Forstner and Fillister and Particle have quite serious sides. If you just need some fun, go see Macbeth Muet.

Macbeth Muet by La Fille du Laitier is playing at undercurrents at Arts Court Theatre on Friday, February 19th at 10:30pm. Price is pay what you can after the performance. Running time is 60 minutes, without intermission.