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Shakespeare Company gives Macbeth the goblin treatment

Rebecca Northan and Bruce Horak in Goblin Macbeth, the new production from the Shakespeare Company Rebecca Northan and Bruce Horak in Goblin Macbeth, the new production from the Shakespeare Company
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What do you get when you mix scary mythological monsters, Shakespeare, masks, and the Calgary creators of the international smash hit Blind Date?

Welcome to Goblin: Macbeth.

That's the new co-production by Calgary's Shakespeare Company in conjunction with Hit & Myth Productions which opened Thursday night at Vertigo Studio Theatre under the Calgary Tower.

The show marks the return of the Shakespeare Company from the pandemic, when those large cast, costume-heavy dramas and comedies by the Bard were simply not doable with the social restrictions imposed on the performing arts by the pandemic.

For Shakespeare Company artistic director Haysam Kadri, who took over as interim artistic director at ATP during the pandemic, the shutdown was an opportunity to pause and think about how Shakespeare's stories can remain relevant in 2022 and beyond.

"The pandemic allowed us to re-calibrate, strengthen our policies, and discover some new an innovative ways in which to present theatre," Kadri said in an email to CTV News. "We are nothing without our audience.  It's what makes us viable and sustainable.  We hope Calgarians will continue the wonderful tradition of sharing space with us at the theatre."

For the return to live presentation, Kadri needed a show that fit under the Shakespeare Company umbrella without being too big, at a moment when rules around social distancing fluctuate.

That led him to Rebecca Northan and Bruce Horak, former Calgarians who created the improve hit Blind Date, This is Cancer, Kung Fu Panties, Legend Has It and other popular shows.

None of those suggest that Northan and Horak  - working with composer Ellis Lalonde - might be drawn to a contemporary re-imagining of Macbeth, which is currently experiencing a revival starring Oscar winners Frances McCormand and Denzel Washington, directed by Oscar winner Ethan Coen – but what sort of Macbeth can we expect from Northan, Horak and Lalonde?

"Unexpected," Northan said, in an emailed reply to a question. "Risky. Cheeky. Irreverent. Respectful. No dust. No mothballs. Virtuosic. Full of misbehaviour."

The trio  have adapted Goblin: Macbeth into around a one hour long scripted story, with about 20 additional minutes of improvisation.

And while Shakespeare's texts are iconic, it's not so far-fetched to suggest it wasn't all written in stone tablets back  in the day 400 years ago, Northan says.

"There is much speculation as to how much improv might have been going on in Shakespeare's time, with the audience (groundlings especially) in full view, and equally as lit as the actors," Northan said. "Bruce and I have been equally obsessed with structure and simultaneous freedom over the last 15 years of collaborating together...so, we continue to take what we learn in our various Spontaneous Theatre projects, and apply them to the next one. How fluid can we be moving in and out of text, and incorporating improvisation. So long as it feels alive!"

And why goblins?

"Humans are misunderstood by goblins, and goblins are most certainly misunderstood by humans," Northan said. "Misinformation circulates on all sides...until a trio of goblin friends come across a Complete Works of Shakespeare and become obsessed.

"While the goblins are not entirely convinced of "theatre" as an art form worth pursuing, they are eager to co-op an empty theatre and strongly suggest a random group of humans join them for a theatrical experiment to get to the bottom of it all."

For Kadri, a Stratford veteran, Goblin: Macbeth is simply the latest chapter in his effort to expose as many people as possible to Shakespeare.

"The plan," Kadri said, "is to continue to produce our lean and mean brand of Shakespeare, leading up to our 25th anniversary season in 23/24."

Goblin: Macbeth runs at Vertigo Studio Theatre through March 27.

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