This is the third attempt by Regent’s Park to produce a Shakespeare play specifically for children and it seems to have tapped into a demand. At the performance I attended, despite it being 10 o’clock on a Sunday morning, there was a pretty healthy house for Shakespeare’s Scottish gorefest.
While some people might question the suitability of Macbeth for children, the high quantity of blood is actually a plus point. Add to that a relatively simple plot and a healthy dose of witches and ghosts (including, in this production, Duncan’s ghost), and it’s more than enough to entertain most kids for 90 minutes.
Director Steve Marmion has some brilliant ideas. The use of a graffiti-ridden backdrop, where writing appears automatically, is an amazingly simple device to explain storyline complexities. And getting the audience to enact Birnam Wood works well too – the massive waving of branches shows how well the young spectators are following the story. The closing fight between Macbeth and Macduff is also one of the best I’ve seen, thrillingly taking place in the midst of the audience. The appearance of the witches is also excellently handled.
There are some strange ideas though, and casting a woman to play Banquo is one of the most bizarre. A central theme of the play is masculinity and what it means to be a man, and Josephine Butler has a thankless task trying to persuade us that Banquo is the fierce warrior of the opening scenes and the nurturing mother of a baby Fleance – it’s an impossible balancing act.
And, on the subject of masculinity, Lady Macbeth’s “unsex me here” speech is delivered by Golda Rosheuvel with little passion, against a soft jazz background. The music throughout is highly obtrusive, masking many of the speeches. It’s a great idea to introduce Shakespeare’s poetry to kids – so why take steps to drown it out?
The actors take everything at breakneck speed. Trevor White is an athletic Macbeth, capturing the humour well. And plaudits to Simon Trinder, who combines good verse-speaking with a sympathetic Macduff.
But in a production aimed at children, the last word should go to my seven-year-old daughter, who says that the production is “brilliant, especially the fighting and the blood.” Looks like Marmion understands his target market extremely well.