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Sunday, 08 May 2016 22:44

Kingston playwright/director stages Macbeth adaptation with grungy twist

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Thu., Apr 21, 2016 | By Hollie Pratt-Campbell

Think, ‘double double toil and trouble’ set to an angsty riff.

A couple of years back, Eirik Rutherford wrote a grunge-era adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth for his drama students at Sydenham High School.

“They wanted to do a musical of some sort,” he explains. “I thought, wouldn’t it be great if we could adapt a Shakespearian play and I had always wanted to combine grunge and Macbeth - I wanted to add a little music on it.”

Two years later, the play, called MacDeath, has evolved into a full multi-media production involving music, film and live action theatre. Also directed by Rutherford, it’s being presented by the King’s Town Players May 4 – 14 at the Rotunda Theatre.

“It’s really unique because there’s no dead time,” Rutherford explains. “The transitions are all filled with either film, live action or music. It makes the plot continue forward, so the audience is never really off the hook.”

The plot loosely follows that of Macbeth, only instead of a Scottish general in the early 1600s, this play focuses on Mac, the lead singer for the band MacDeath, and his very driven wife, Lady. It’s the thick of the growing grunge scene in 1990s Seattle and the band Kings of Duncan (think: Nirvana) is on its way to the top of the charts.

“They’re top of the land, unbeatable. You can’t get them off number one. And then of course Lady and Mac get jealous and start to plot and think, ‘maybe we can knock them off and become number one’.”

Instead of witches, there are groupies, and rather than the Thane of Fife, the character of Maduff is a quiet, methodical talent agent.

Rutherford says his play focuses a lot on the character of Lady, who is based on one of the strongest female roles in all of Shakespeare.

“He had a few [strong female characters], but none quite as strong as Lady Macbeth. I really kind of wanted to play with that theme of a strong woman in a strong role and the misogynistic views that we have of women in strong positions - the societal expectations and those kinds of things.”

Why combine Macbeth and grunge?

Rutherford says that in a lot of ways the two go hand-in-hand, and the adaptation fell into place fairly easily.

“Grunge is so dark, so bleak. It’s all about the idea of people falling from some sort of high esteem to a low esteem, people doing something to themselves to cause them to fall from this grace. There’s a very self-destructive mood in those songs.”

Similarly, the plot of Macbeth involves the title character and his wife, Lady Macbeth, carrying out a plan to raise their status and power, which ends up leading to their own demise.

“I think it speaks to the absolute fortitude of Shakespeare’s storytelling that these stories can transcend time and genres,” says Rutherford. “You can turn them into musicals, you can turn them into movies, ballets, whatever you want, and the classic plotlines always fit.”

That’s not to say the writing and directing process has been easy. Rutherford describes it as a ‘great big challenge’ to first get the adaptation down, then bring the multimedia show together; the entire process has taken about two years, and he is excited to see it come alive on stage.

“It was chaotic and I wasn’t sure it was going to work, but it did work. I’m really happy with how it’s shaping up.”

MadDeath runs May 4 – 7 and May 11 – 14 at the Rotunda Theatre, located in Theological Hall at Queen’s. For ticket information, visit