Sounds ambitious? It is. A brief reminder of the plot for those who haven’t been near Macbeth since their GCSE days: it’s a bloodbath brought about by greed, misguided ambition and three hags on a moor. Except here, the bloodbath comprises of tomato-red paint, with a couple of songs thrown in for good measure.
Making Shakespeare accessible to all is a noble aim, and I’m all for it. This version is condensed and re-jigged, and with only six cast members, many of the minor characters are lumped together. But, perhaps most significantly, the language and text is nearly 100% Shakespeare’s own. Under Steve Marmion’s direction there are plenty of visual tricks to help the children follow the action: the backdrop is a white screen, where eerie writing appears, as it is sprayed on backstage, providing massive pointers as to what’s happening; and there are props aplenty, which are hurled around the set in a fairly slapstick fashion.
This is a tricky tightrope to walk; how to communicate a complex storyline to the kids, without descending into total pantomime? The production concedes a lot: Banquo (Josephine Butler) is more like Lara Croft than a Scottish thane, and the witches are just goats’ skulls on sticks; but I’m not sure it concedes enough. Parts of the play lend themselves better to this lively format than others. Particularly post-interval, the plot becomes much more action-driven and I felt the mood lift, despite the fact that the play is, in reality, careering towards a grisly conclusion. During the earlier part of the play, the emphasis is more on the language; consensus amongst the under-10s at the interval was, unsurprisingly, bafflement.
You couldn’t hope that a six-year-old would be able to grasp all the nuances of this complex play, but in seeking to present something accessible, the team have inevitably sacrificed a lot of the richness of the original. I never expected to see jazz hands during a production of Macbeth – and they certainly cropped up during the curtain call – but by that point, I didn’t bat an eyelid.
- Christina Bracewell