For its final production of the season, King’s Town Players have again turned to the Bard and one of his better-known works, Macbeth.
This time around, however, instead of simply setting the play in the modern day — as was the case with last year’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which was set in the 1950s — it also uses some modern language, too [including a few cuss words], with the occasional of William Shakespeare’s prose.
Written and directed by Kingston’s Eirik Rutherford — who first staged the play a couple of years ago at Sydenham High School — this version of the classic tale is set in the self-destructive “grunge” music scene of 1990s Seattle, which gave birth to bands such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam.
The skeleton of the Shakespearean tragedy remains, however. Instead of Macbeth, we have Mac [Zorba Dravillas, lead singer of the grunge band MacDeath, which is also the name of the play.] While the band is finally finding success — in this version, the witches who said it would happen have been replaced by slithering, pop culture-quoting groupies — they still sit behind the Kings of Duncan on the sales charts.
That’s not good enough for Mac’s ambitious wife Lady (Kelti Roy), who urges her husband to take his, er, their, success into his own hands, literally, by eliminating Duncan [with a bullet, fittingly]. [One of my favourite scenes of this version, in fact, was when Dravillas held the gun, the lights quickly went red, and he asked, ominously, “Is this a dagger which I see before me? The handle toward my hand?”].
Once he starts, though, he can’t stop as his paranoia and ambition, with a helping of drugs, fuel his murderous ways.
And then enters his talent agent, MacDuff [Christian Milanovic], who suspects not all is right in Duncan’s death and sets about finding the truth.
While this play may have a contemporary setting, that’s not the only modern twist Rutherford has added to the classic tragedy.
In addition to the play itself, there is a live band that plays songs from that era throughout, and sometimes the narrative is the songs themselves, three of which were sung by the strong-voiced Roy. Also taking a turn behind the microphone was Basquo [Max Davidson], who is like the Jerry Cantrell to Mac’s Layne Staley of Alice in Chains fame. It was fun having the band onstage and playing rather than tucked away offstage.
When the stage needed reconfiguring, there were two screens that showed video that bridged the action, which kept the play moving along seamlessly. While I liked the concept, there were a few more video clips in the second act than I would have cared to see, and the novelty soon wore off a bit for me. Still, it was an interesting idea, and one that would surely keep younger audiences engaged.
As for the performances, they were all solid, but Dravillas, who also played an edgy, neurotic character in the theatre troupe’s season-opening production, Bug, stood out from the others onstage, much like, well, a band’s frontman would.
All in all, the clever MacDeath offers a contemporary take on a classic tale — OK, maybe not as contemporary as it was the 1990s, which is now [ugh] a couple of decades old — and it’s one that stuck with me after the theatre’s lights had dimmed.
Written and directed by Eirik Rutherford, based on the play Macbeth by William Shakespeare.
A King’s Town Players production playing at the Rotunda Theatre inside the Theological Hall, Queen’s University campus, until May 14. Performances are Wednesday to Saturday at 8 p.m.
Mac: Zorba Dravillas.
Lady: Kelti Roy.
Banquo: Max Davidson.
MacDuff: Christian Milanovic.
Lenny: Erik Hutten.