The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society’s Production of Macbeth is not only a mouthful of a title but also a handful of a show. It’s a brilliant, farcical play that laughs at everything the theatre world has to offer, a play about a production of Macbeth as interpreted by a cast of nearly proper English ladies. The Theatre Erindale production, despite being designed to look ridiculous and disorganized, demands very precise performances from actors and backstage crew alike.
The show is commanded by a multitude of props and set pieces, each of which is deployed with perfect timing. The severed head suspended from the ceiling would have been terrifying if it hadn’t fallen to the deck with an audible, rubbery splat at the end of its speech as the first apparition. The same goes for the daggers in Macbeth’s illusions, which nearly run the poor actress (played by Cassondra Padfield) through on multiple occasions. Farndale quickly turns into a sort of ballet of dysfunctional props and actors, all of whom try very, very hard to put on the best play they can—and, quite simply, fail miserably.
And that means Theatre Erindale is doing their job perfectly. Acting Farndale requires specific technique, mostly based on impeccable timing and the performers’ confidence in themselves to make it look as if there are legitimate lethal accidents occurring every 10 seconds. And every incident brings a new bout of tears, broken bones, and forgotten or grafted dialogue and speeches. There is a fine line between portraying the characters of Macbeth and portraying the Farndale Dramatic Society’s attempts at the characters, but the distinction is never lost on the Erindale actors.
Farndale does not, however, function only on a superficial and amusing level. It is a meta-theatrical commentary on amateur theatre and subjective adjudication. Right from the start of the show, the audience in no way attends the play they thought they were going to see. Instead, they are privy to a drama competition not unlike Hart House Theatre’s Drama Festival, but fraught with perils ranging from blind swordfights to an out-of-control wheelchair.
For those familiar with Theatre Erindale’s performances, the transition to the Multimedia Studio Theatre might be a bit of a shock. But the MiST space makes it an even more enjoyable experience. Theatre Erindale is intimate, and the MiST is even more so; the close quarters of the audience and actors prevents the actors from looking like paragons of performance and expertise, but rather makes them human. Everyone knows moments of such complete mortification that it seems as if the world will end. The brilliance of the staging is in the feeling that the performers can be reached and comforted, just as everyone wants to be when they realize their fly has been undone the whole day.
One of the strongest elements of the performance is the actors’ awareness of the fourth wall and how they play with it in their interactions with the audience. Here is a cast well-schooled in the art of improvisation, players brave enough to engage with an unknown scene partner. This is not just a one-time interaction: the audience routinely becomes part of the play. This is highlighted in the final scene, in which the play is adjudicated by the elusive Mr. Peach (Andrew DiRosa). Slowly, during his speech, the house lights are brought up, and spectators no longer have the security of sitting in the dark. It is only then that I realized just how much we had been put on the spot throughout the play. We stood for “God Save the Queen”, held onto our raffle tickets, and laughed and groaned throughout. And that made me feel that this was my play too, in part; I helped create the performance that night.
“We guarantee you’ve never seen a disaster like the one perpetrated by the ladies of Farndale,” writes director Patrick Young—a very accurate description of a play bursting with vocal, physical, and technical demands. Possibly the funniest show ever to take the Erindale stage, The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society’s Production of Macbeth runs until Sunday, February 3 at the MiST Theatre.