Shakespeare Demystified: MacBeth

I had the opportunity to see “MacBeth” performed in the accessible and always enjoyable stylings of the KL Shakespeare Players’ Series Shakespeare Demystified. This troupe brings Shakespeare to life for the modern audience by engaging the viewers by interspersing backstory and context into the original language of the Bard. It’s a terrific way to make these plays enjoyable and accessible to a modern audience who may not be too fond of the archaic and enigmatic ways of Shakespeare verse. I’ve seen many of their shows over the years including last year’s The Merchant of Venice, Hamlet, and my favorite The Merry Wives of Windsor. Once again, the troupe did not disappoint. They gave a spirited and engaging performance with minimal props and lighting changes. They did include wonderful live sound effects courtesy a troupe member on the bongo drum adding some wonderful sensory rhythms and effects to the experience.

The show began a little “thick” and slow as we tried to figure out who this MacBeth character was. Was he a hero as they tried to portray him? His heroic nature seemed a little overshadowed in this production, most likely because of time, making him seem less a tragic figure and more a villain, or perhaps a pawn of his evil wife.

But all of this mattered not because of the terrific chemistry between actors and the high energy performances which demanded justice for MacBeth’s treachery. And yes, he received it.

I’m a big fan of seeing Shakespeare live, and the KL Shakespeare Players’ once again provided a gripping and thrilling evening of theatre which I cannot recommend enough. They put a lot of work into this production, so at least you can do is spare a little of your cash for a great night of entertainment.

The run at penangpac finished yesterday, but they head to Kuala Lumpur to be featured at KLPAC so do make your way to support this superb show!

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Have you read MacBeth? Who Cares? Have you SEEN MacBeth?

My favorite Shakespeare troupe, the KL Shakespeare Players, bring back their delightful Shakespeare Demystified series to penangpac starting this Thursday evening. I’ve caught many of their fun renditions over the years, and I’m sure this one will be up to the challenge of presenting the Bard’s  MacBETH in relevant and understandable ways for the modern audience. So anyone in town should definitely make it a point to come support their endeavor. It is, in fact, how Shakespeare is supposed to be experienced – on the stage.

Way back in the day, I was an undergraduate English major. I had the massive Riverside Shakespeare edition which has enough bulk and heft for a government legislative bill. I lugged that thing around, I read all my assigned plays, I discussed them in class, I wrote a billion papers (slight exaggeration) on Shakespeare, and I received a less than satisfactory grade, leaving the class with an under-appreciation for Shakespeare’s bulk of plays.

And it seems to me that most English classes, whether high school or college, still miss the point with Shakespeare. They expect 21st century students to read turn of the 17th century English prose and poetry. I’m sorry, reading Shakespeare is boring, especially if you don’t understand it.

Shakespeare was written for the stage. It is meant to be spoken. Reading drama is an exercise similar to listening to the television. A major part of the experience is missing and along with that comes the flirtations with boredom and the sheer terror of writing a coherent paper that doesn’t rely on Spark Notes.

But if you give a student a character, have them research that character, have them think through motivations and objectives by using action and expression and interpretation, Shakespeare universal human themes will emerge in new and exciting ways.

We tend to approach Shakespeare in an academic manner. We should approach Shakespeare, even in our English classes, as an exercise in the performing arts. Allow the action to teach. Allow the action to frame the meaning of the words.

Stop reading Shakespeare and go watch it (or perform it yourself) instead.

I’ll see you at penangpac later this week.

Review: Shakespeare Demystified – The Merchant of Venice (2016)

I was able to catch the KL Shakespeare Players with their new version of Shakespeare Demystified “The Merchant of Venice” on opening night at the Penang Performing Arts Centre. I’m very glad I did.

shakespeare demystified

Here they are after all the applause, before their post-show Q & A.

The show itself is in ingenious romp through the heart of the “Merchant of Venice” – demystifying it for the audience with pertinent, pre-scene narration which gives everyone a “heads-up” about what’s about to come. It’s a great way to watch Shakespeare – short, interesting spurts.

The acting was great, with Ivan Chan stealing the show in many scenes, playing Antonio and a host of other interesting characters with great vigor and physicality as proven by the amount of sweat he left on the floor.

But it wasn’t just Chan who shined. All of the acting was lively and humorous, and parts of it downright unexpected. I appreciated the Christian-Jew separation as defined by the Shakespeare era. It was enlightening to see how  the culture and religion clashes of yesteryear are, perhaps, not so different from those of today. Lim Soon Heng played a wonderfully rounded Shylock, and Lim Kien Lee’s direction provided the audience with a tight script and focused performance. I also enjoyed Lee’s decision for Shylock to wear a big, hideous mask, with massive stereotypical nose until he gives his famous speech about being no different from anyone else. It was a great symbolic reminder of how stereotypes serve no one but the enablers of racial discord.

“The Merchant of Venice” is playing all weekend at Penangpac before heading to Kuala Lumpur next week to continue its run. I highly recommend you run out and see it.

KL Shakespeare Players

Tickets via Penangpac

Shakespeare Demystified: Othello

This is the fourth installment that I’ve seen from those folks who like to simplifying the Bard. They picked the tragedy “Othello” for this year’s production, and how did they do? Keep reading!

The penangpac SD playlist of the last few years looked like this:

  • 2012 Merchant of Venice
  • 2013 Merry Wives of Windsor
  • 2014 Hamlet: A Performance Lecture
  • 2015: Othello

I caught Othello on opening night at penangpac, and like any opening night, there were some jitters and jumbled lines on some of the explanations of Othello given by the actors. But this detracted little from the main course.

Here’s the way SD works: they abridge the Bard’s work down to 100 minutes, which includes the explanations. These pre-scene talks are done by various actors (with cheat-sheet in hand) as they attempt to inform the audience on the scene in which they are about to witness. These informative explanations also delve into the characters to help conjecture about motivation, often citing how scholars have interpreted the work.

What comes next is Shakespeare in his original language performed with a minimalist set.

Does it work? Absolutely!

The Shakespeare Demystified folks continue to show their enviable ability to make the works of William come alive to modern audiences who have become perhaps weary of many of his works.

The explosive ending to Othello was just that: riveting, tragic, and emotional. I even noticed a few tears in the audience.

Shakespeare Demystified’s “Othello” is an excellent, gripping, and entertaining introduction for those who think Shakespeare is hard to understand.

I highly recommend it.

Their short run at penangpac has just finished, but you can catch the SD crew at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre from April 22-26.

Don’t miss it!

Review: Hamlet A Performance Lecture by Shakespeare Demystified

I caught the opening night of Hamlet: A Performance Lecture by Shakespeare Demystified at penangpac this evening, and I highly recommend it. They will be in town until Sunday and then will be heading to KLPAC later in the month.

The Shakespeare Demystified Troupe never seems to disappoint, mixing lecture style analysis in-between pertinent scenes to give the audience an easily digestible evening of Shakespeare – not too heavy that one cannot understand and not too light as to change the original language. No, they stay true to the script but add their witty vignettes and camaraderie to make it a highly palatable evening.

This it the third performance I have seen from this troupe, witnessing “The Merchant of Venice” in 2012 and the amusing “The Merry Wives of Windsor” last year.

In this performance, they cleverly mixed and matched the actors, both male and female, to suit the particular scene, and they were not opposed to having a female play Hamlet as well. The narration, lectures, and scene introductions worked well, ending with the highly entertaining fencing scene at the end where everyone dies, as is typical of many Shakespeare plays.

The actors are never over-matched by the material and, indeed, soar to dramatic and poignant heights that both satisfy the audience while leaving them wanting more. The hour and a half production did move quickly, and as they hinted that a full-blown “Hamlet” production may be in the works for next year, one could only hope that it is true.

Find out more about Shakespeare Demystified HERE!

And please go check them out sometime this month.

Review: Shakespeare Demystified – The Merry Wives of Windsor

The drama troupe Shakespeare Demystified made their second appearance at PenangPAC this past weekend by bringing their latest endeavor, “The Merry Wives of Windsor”, to our fair island. I first saw this group last year as they demystified “The Merchant of Venice.” I thoroughly enjoyed their 2012 performance, so I was hoping for more magic as they brought back the bard. I was not disappointed.

First a word about demystifying Shakespeare. Their goal is to stay true to the language of the bard, but to create abbreviated versions of his plays with minimal sets while sticking to the main plot only thereby eliminating extraneous material. The formula works. Very well, actually.

In a relaxed, informal setting, the players explain the main issues of the plot, to make sure people are following along, and then they get into Shakespeare’s rich dialogue and interesting plot twists. The Merry Wives of Windsor has the (kind of) lovable plump knight, Sir John Falstaff.  The wives that he tried to woo for their money plot against him making him out to be the fool in the end.

The play is funny and light-hearted and the Shakespeare Demystified crew did a splendid job of bringing it to life. The audience was thoroughly engaged and the Q & A session afterward even furthered the message they were trying to convey – that Shakespeare’s plays can be done in simple and relevant ways to a modern audience that is generally scared of his works.

I highly recommend their productions, and I look forward to what they will produce for next year.