Macbeth meets Mary Poppins

Recently I went to see Sleep No More, which originally opened in London, then went to Boston, and is now on in New York City. It’s essentially a reworking of Macbeth as a mash-up of interpretive dance and haunted house. You absolutely walk out of this one humming the set, and that’s a good thing.

I found the experience to be very effective and haunting. Exactly like one of those dreams where you find yourself trapped within Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. I’m sure you have those dreams too. Doesn’t everybody?

Then this morning I started rewatching Mary Poppins (which I had not seen since childhood), and I began to notice eerie parallels between Mary Poppins and Macbeth. Both feature a strong female lead, rather clueless male characters who charge around thinking they are in control, without ever quite realizing that their lives and fates are ruled by powerful magical entities beyond their understanding (three witches or Walt Disney — take your pick).

The male lead in both pieces make fools of themselves by believing themselves destined to rule. Macbeth arrogantly declares “”If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me!” while Mr. Banks sings “I’m the lord of my castle / The sov’reign, the liege!” Meanwhile, it turns out that it’s the females who have all the power and all the magic.

In the end, of course, each of these clueless males realizes his mistake, although each seems to express this idea differently:

Macbeth: “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player / That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, / And then is heard no more. It is a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing.”

Mr. Banks: “Let’s go fly a kite.”

See what I mean? Two expressions of the human condition, each a milestone in its respective genre. Although it could be argued that Macbeth has the better poetry.

On the other hand, Mary Poppins has much better songs. 🙂

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