Photo by Tim Matheson


Jennifer Lines as Antony. Photo Tim MathesonBard on the Beach
created by Rebecca Northan with Bruce Horak

When & Where August 19 – September 24, 2023, evenings at 7.30, Sundays at 2pm | Howard Family Stage in the Douglas Campbell Theatre, Vanier Park

Director Rebecca Northan Costume Designer Philp Edwards Masks Composite Effects Lighting Designer Anton deGroot, Michael K. Hewitt Stage Manager Lili Beaudoin

Cast: Bruce Horak, Colleen Wheeler, Ellis Lalonde

Improv theatre with Macbeth for inspiration and Goblins to boot. This is an intriguing premise for a show at Bard on the Beach and a bit of a leap of faith for Swan-of-Avon-ophiles, but theatre is nothing if not exploratory.

Three goblins greet theatre-goers as they enter the Bard tent. They explain they have wandered into the theatre and come upon a copy of Shakespeare's Complete Works in which they have found a play full of magic, witches, murder and violence - their world. Macbeth's elegant world is much more correct, they explain, than Tolkien's rough goblins' and they proceed to demonstrate, by terrorizing the theatre's stage manager (Lili Beaudoin). (As for the assistant SM, she is invited backstage and never seen again.) The three goblins decide to perform Macbeth to understand human behaviour.

Bruce Horak, who developed the show with director Rebecca Northan, and Ellis Lalonde are skilled improvisors, both with a long-practised grip on the piece. Colleen Wheeler has seamlessly joined the pair for Bard, cajoling the audience, throwing jokes back and forth and passing easily from goblin-mode to full-throated Shakespeare. Lalonde steps in when necessary but mostly provides atmospheric, and sometimes spoofy, music and the sound effects, leaving the other two to play all the remaining parts. .

Running gags abound, sometimes literally as when one actor is playing far too many parts. Literary criticism takes hits (the correct pronunciation of Scone and the importance of rhyming couplets is thoroughly analysed) and current concepts are considered, as when Duncan's murder is dismissed as successful conflict resolution.

Side by side with such comic sections lie whole passages of straightforward Shakespeare, delivered with classical care.

Costume designer Philip Edwards has clearly taken pains to disguise gender, dressing the goblins in black leggings and thigh-length, belted surcoats. This well supports Macbeth which is much concerned with gender roles and how they interact with character, although it completely contradicts the goblins' assertion that, contrary to Tolkien's description of them as sexless, they have 17 types of gender.

It is nothing against improv theatre to suggest even the best can be hit and miss. Missing here for me was follow-through on some of their best ideas, gender swapping the Macbeths from time to time, perhaps, finding out what the goblins learnt about humans maybe. The goblins never confront the arguments in Macbeth against murder and violence, or perceive beauty in the poetry. On the other hand, their final action gives a surprising and satisfying conclusion.

Goblin:Macbeth offers blood and gore, some gross moments, audience participation and laughter. Take a word of advice from Macbeth himself - be bloody bold and resolute. Go and see it.

© 2023 Elizabeth Paterson