MacBain

At first glance, there are other plays by Shakespeare that would offer more fruitful parallels with the Kurt Cobain story than Macbeth. Not least Hamlet, with whom, if Charles R. Cross’s biography is to be believed, the Nirvana frontman had a particular preoccupation toward the end of his life. However, when Dood Paard (‘Dead Horse’) theatre widen the scope of the Cobain myth to include his wife Courtney Love, comparisons between the Cobain/Love and Macbeth/Lady Macbeth couples begin to form more clearly.

A random assortment of rubber props – lobsters, snakes, turtles, and a My Little Pony as Banquo’s son Fleance

The piece opens with the Love (Manja Topper) and Cobain (Gilles Biesheuvel) characters playing out some form of interview, where both alternate between questioner and responder. Beginning on a screeching, hysterical note, their interactions only become more exaggerated over the next twenty minutes. There is no real narrative offered up here, just two vain, drug-addled characters talking at each other. Excepting the actors’ committed performances, a lot of work remains to be done if the parallels between the grunge power-couple and the Macbeths are to be established, particularly in the case of the Cobain character, who offers none of the self-doubt and victim-of-fate sensibility one would have presumed would be the link between him and his Scottish counterpart.

The second section, clocking in at about 35 minutes, is a real let down. It gives an abridged account of the rise and fall of Macbeth using selections from the First Folio text and a random assortment of rubber props – lobsters, snakes, turtles, and a My Little Pony as Banquo’s son Fleance. Though meant to be playful, a combination of duration and muffled dialogue (a lot of which took place while crouched behind the couch) led to this becoming really grating. A solid fifteen minutes shaved off this and a more careful selection of relevant scenes from the play would improve it no end.

The final section is easily the most satisfactory. The four main characters are conflated in some really sharp vignettes of dialogue, punctuated by a compelling audio and staging arrangement. The section is positioned as one in which the ideas and themes of the previous two coalesce; in this sense it is a qualified success. Where it is drags is not so much in the section itself but rather in the way that it highlights the work that needs to be done on the earlier sections to establish any tangible coherence, emotional, narrative, or otherwise. The realisation of this closing section does a lot to save the piece – more restrained performances by Topper and Biesheuvel (the latter in particular excelling here) are enabled by some astute melding of text from Macbeth and Nirvana lyrics. There is an echo with the opening of the piece, with the characters again talking at one another, but this time there is far more weight and resonance to what they are saying.

A reduction on the running time and some more finesse to the first two sections could make a very engaging piece out of some quality raw material.

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The Blurb

MacBeth and Kurt Cobain and Lady Macbeth and Courtney Love inspire a pitch-black comedy about unbridled ambition, hunger for power and an addiction to intoxication and ecstasy. A triptych of hilarious interviews with the pop stars, a freaky fast-forward puppet version of Macbeth which results in a merciless symbiosis of the grunge couple Cobain-Love and the Thanes of Cawdor. A crazy journey into the world of two seriously troubled people who are trying to escape from their mental prison, as their loneliness howls through the room and the attempts to reverse the inevitable end are heart-breaking.

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