I know how important it is to be introduced to potentially challenging material in a fun and enthusiastic way. In fact, it was my Standard Grade English teacher at Perth High School, Mrs Thomas, that convinced me that Shakespeare was worth my attention. We read Shakespeare plays, including Macbeth, aloud in class and attended performances of them at the Dundee Rep. I remember the exhilarating feeling I got when I actually understood what was going on, not just the plot and the language but the themes behind them. I felt like I was riding a bike without stabilisers for the first time, although it would be another full year before I accomplished that terrifying feat.
The tale I'm about to tell is bloody, violent, and miserable, but don't worry... like school dinners it's got funny bits in itI really enjoyed my experience watching the edgy "Knives In Hens" earlier in the year and I was really looking forward to another night out there. This time I had my mum Norma in tow. She loves a bit of legitimate theatre, although she's a bit miffed that I'm running a bit late and we don't have time to hit the bar before showtime. Inside the theatre, we find a broad range of ages from tots to retired folks like my mum. Andy appears from the back of the auditorium and takes the stage. He wastes no time winning over the audience with the opening gambit: "The tale I'm about to tell is bloody, violent, and miserable, but don't worry... like school dinners it's got funny bits in it."
Mr Cannon is disarming, charming and knowledgeable. He seems to have an uncanny knack for distilling the most seemingly convoluted of narratives into a short, snappy, suspenseful and funny show. Macbeth has a reputation for being one of being one of the bards most accessible plays and it certainly has a lot of cool stuff to offer Shakespeare noobs. In just one play you've got battles, treason, witches, ghosts, throat-slitting, femme fatales, and that's just in the first two acts! Plotwise, it's fairly straightforward and it's certainly action-packed. However, the language which Shakespeare employs in his plays, which flits between poetry and prose can be a bit off-putting to people experiencing it for the first time.
Mr Cannon cleverly sidesteps this problem by mixing things up. He tells most of the story in his own witty and conversational style but seasons it with enough of the original text to give the audience a proper feel of the play. He also slips in clever little-in jokes about Macbeth, Shakespeare's work in general, plus little pop-culture references that brink the material into the modern day. For example, he says of Lady Macbeth, "If you ever went round to her house you couldn't help but notice it was... well... spotless!" and the witches quip to Macbeth "you're already the Thane of Glam's, that's safe".
It's not all fun and games though, as things take a decidedly scarier turn as Macbeth ascends a spiral staircase to perform a bit regicide on his cousin Duncan. Even for a forty-year-old horror movie aficionado who knows what's coming next, this is pretty suspenseful stuff and the younger audience members are on the edge of their seats. The screws are turned tighter still by the excellent sound design. With it's dissonant, shrill fiddles and the atmospheric but unshowy lighting which gives the tale a sort of campfire horror story effect. Andy does an amazing job of taking on the cast of the play, and his fetching Lady Macbeth and his dashing Banquo prove particularly popular with the audience.
Even for a forty-year-old horror movie aficionado who knows what's coming next, this is pretty suspenseful stuff, the younger audience members are on the edge of their seats. After he's finished recounting Shakespeare's Macbeth, Andy goes on to put it into a bit of historical context. Turns out that the play is mostly fiction. However, the bard is not entirely to blame for this, as at least two popular histories of Macbeth have glaring inaccuracies including one that entirely made-up Banquo and his son Fleance. I always thought Fleance sounded like a made-up name. We even get a wee potted history of King James, who is played by a willing audience member in the front row. One kid behind us is loving the gallows humour that Cannon brings to James' sad history, and can't help bursting into spontaneous laughter upon hearing of the king’s son, King Charles I's execution.
It's been a great evening and everyone in the audience, from kids to retirees have enjoyed themselves immensely. As the lights come up my mum turns to me and says, "Was that good, or was that good?"
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November 5th Monday 2018