I was excited about the opportunity to see Macbeth, one of my favorite Shakespearean plays, peformed in a format I enjoy a lot – the puppet show. The puppet Tempest I saw at the Little Angel two years before was genius, and I hoped for much of the same from this much darker play.
Of necessity, the play was stripped down, done end to end in about two hours and with no interval. This didn’t bother me; it is often necessary to adapt your source material to your performance format. And the puppets were beautiful and created additional layers of meaning to the characters; in this case, the trope was that the characters were birds, with Duncan a crowned swan (making for a very tragic death) and his sons two grey cygnets (always easy to pick them out). The lesser nobles (including Macbeth) are chickens (well, roosters, really). This makes for an almost comic scene in the death of Macduff’s “pretty little chickens and their dam,” but, actually, the slaughter of the baby birds in their nest was able to be far more bloody and sad than any production I’ve ever seen with human children.
However, the production was just understaffed to me. While the bunraku-style puppetry was executed quite well with just three performers (most impressive during the battle scene at the end!), this also made the use of a recorded, spoken soundtrack a must. And listening to this recording just took all of the power out of this best of plays. The Tempest I saw was all performed live, with a mix of human and puppet actors; but this felt a bit like a live action books on tape. Sure, puppets can’t move their faces the way humans do, but I think the decision to record the words was a mistake, and one that ultimately made a lovely bit of puppetry fall flat. Ah well, at least it was short.
(This review is for a performance that took place on October 5th, 2013. It continues through November 10th.)