Actors have long avoided speaking the name Macbeth inside a theatre. The popular myth holds that by uttering the name outside an actual performance or rehearsal of Shakespeare’s bloody drama is a recipe for disaster. In UNSEX’d, playwrights Jay Whitehead and Daniel Judes throw caution to the wind in their irreverent story of two boy-players competing for the role of Lady Macbeth, set at a time when boys played the female roles on stage.
“The first couple of words spoken in the play are words that you don’t usually say inside a theatre,” laughs Adam Beauchesne who plays Humphrey, one of the two actors vying for the role.
More than just saying Macbeth out loud though, UNSEX’d also comes with its own origin story for the superstition.
“It is a fictional account that is playful and comedic that deals with the origin of the curse,” says director Richie Wilcox. “It is also completely and historically inaccurate, and we’re really proud of that.”
All kidding aside, while Beauchesne claims he doesn’t buy into the curse, Wilcox isn’t quite so sure.
“I’m not a person who is necessarily superstitious, but in the first night of our run in Lethbridge the lighting started flickering, stalled and then broke,” he says with a laugh. We ended up having to stop the show and start over”.
Set in Elizabethan times when women were forbidden from being on stage, and the female roles fell to adolescent males known as boy players, UNSEX’d is the story of two of those players. Not only looking to score a prime role in Shakespeare’s newest play, the two also vie for the playwright’s affections.
On tour from Lethbridge’s Theatre Outré, whose mandate is to provide “an uncensored and uncompromising voice” for those that fall somewhere on the queer spectrum, it is perhaps unsurprising to know that the advance press for UNSEX’d comes with a “gratuitously crude” warning. But Wilcox and Beauchesne make no apologies as it steps over the line.
“Any queer campy piece should do that,” says Wilcox. “Because it is comedy of course you can get away with more and people are more willing to accept that.”
“Besides, the theatre is a safe space to make people feel uncomfortable,” adds Beauchesne.
Despite its camp sensibility, Wilcox is pleased at how the show has been embraced outside the queer community.
“When we started out in Lethbridge we were offering this alternative, counterculture type show, but when we took the show on the road to Nova Scotia it was really gratifying to see how the show was embraced by everyone, from all walks of life,” he says.
Notwithstanding the play’s rampant bawdy humour that includes bare bums and strong language, made even crasser up against the playwrights’ use of an Elizabethan-style vernacular, there is a point to the madness as the playwrights explore some meatier questions behind the laughs.
“It has to do with vanity, beauty, and how far that will take us,” says Wilcox.
“It explores themes of how you value yourself and how you define yourself,” adds Beauchesne.
UNSEX’d plays the PAL Studio Theatre (581 Cardero St, Vancouver) December 2-5. Visit https://thefranktheatre.com for tickets and information.