The Rise and Fall of the Mad King of Scotland has many strengths. It demonstrates both an acute knowledge of Macbeth’s dramaturgy, and an awareness of the critical scholarship surrounding Shakespeare’s play (There was no need to change the title although it did spare us the necessity of remembering not to utter Macbeth in the theatre). In doing so, The Rise and Fall of the Mad King of Scotland managed to be simeateanously faithful to Shakespeare’s intent and themes, and innovate, particularly by casting a woman, Princess Margaret (Victoria Olivier), as Duncan’s (Ray Rehgberg) named successor. Additionally, Macbeth (Stephen James Hanthorn) has the gentle kindness throughout the play of which Lady Macbeth (Bridgette Hammond) complains, and identifies with Macbeth’s femininity, and likely impotence. For here, unlike in most productions, these alleged “character flaws,” are represented on stage, and Hanthorn maintains that sensitivity and kindness throughout, even as he murder’s Duncan, (shown on stage along with a great deal of other convincing battle scenes and violence (Steve Wisegrave), and a whole lot of other people, as well as making contact with the demonic not-temporal world. We also see the beginning of Macbeth’s madness as he listens to the grooms’ prayer’s, and is horrified at not being able to pronounce “Amen,” a scene in which Shakespeare’s script is merely recounted by Macbeth.
Lady Macbeth, so untypical of Shakespeare’s heroines, is pure evil which Hammond embodies consummately, albeit mixed with glamour, and the ability to produce a high degree of authentic intimacy with the audience, especially during the banquet scene at which we are treated as the guests. Any lines that would suggest reluctance on the part of the Macbeths’ deadly enterprise are excised. However, perhaps to avoid misrepresenting Shakespeare’s as a misogynist (he was anything but, more like a proto-feminist), Princess Margaret character serves in strong contrast to Lady Macbeth by maintaining all of Fleance’s gentle goodness (there is considerable heavy reworking of the scene between her and Banquo by Laird in which he seamlessly preserves Shakespeare’s style of diction and syntax in new lines of Iambic pentameter). which Olivier adeptly transforms into a medieval feminine quietness, modesty, and uncertainty, as she contemplates with a reserved nervousness becoming Scotland’s first female queen.
However, despite innovative ideas in Laird’s adaptation and direction; his intense awareness of the history and literary criticism surrounding Macbeth; and the consummate acting by the lead actors, the production does have its production has it problems. Some of them stem from the adaptation including too few actors. Many perform more than one role, for no narrative purpose (and it’s not like there is a deficit of talented actors in Chicago looking for work, or anywhere else in America for that matter). The lighting (Kristof Janezic) and sound design (Brandon Reed) were remarkably affective in their emotional impact and narrative purpose, but utterly failed along with the meager set (Mikey Laird) to produce the ambience of Early Medieval Scotland. Nonetheless, this is a very interesting adaptation that will fascinate people who know the play well and can follow the innovative changes in plot, direction, and staging, even if at times it feels a little to abbreviated, and isn’t clearly located in time and place I assume Nothing Special Productions is a new theatre company. If so, I hope the Mad King of Scotland is a harbinger of things to come.
The Play is showing in the Pentagon Room of the Flat Iron Arts building, located at 1567 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago through April 10th
Thursday 7:30 p.m,
Fridays 7:30 p.m.
Saturday 7:30 pm
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