The Scottish play at Edinburgh Fringe Festival – not the most original of ideas. But in this case Youth Music Theatre UK have transformed the production – the set is modelled on a more modern dystopian era with metal chain fencing and flickering computer screens. Oh, and the songs turn the whole performance into a musical. That’s a fairly big change, too.
The musical opens with the witches’ speech (“When shall we three meet again”) as a chorus number, complete with about ten witches. The characterisation here is very clever – all walk about the stage like marionette dolls, robotic yet childish. The opening number is visceral, intense and inherently sinister; vocally there is a Gothic sound akin to the Dies Irae in a choral requiem – high soaring soprano lines and short, sharp lyrics that fill the room with a menacing atmosphere. The witches are led by Hecate (Cressida Hardy), who immediately draws the eye with coloured contacts and a Black Swan stripe across her face. She says little, but throughout the show she is consistently the one to watch. Hardy moves deliberately, draping herself over the actors as she whispers in their ear like the devil on their shoulder. There is a missed opportunity to incorporate some really striking dance sequences into this part, but Hardy exudes an imposing stage presence enough without it.
It is always easy to pick out actors who have a natural grasp of Shakesperean language. From their first lines both Macbeth (Sam Garioch) and Banquo (Rob Peacock) are relaxed in their dialogue – they speak it if they were conversing in modern English, with all the right inflections and emotional undercurrents. Both have strong vocal capabilities too; Peacock has a beautiful tone in his voice and Garioch can act through his songs like an expert. Given the intensity of this part, it is forgivable when Garioch’s voice starts to tire and crack near the end of the show. Mentioning voices is incomplete with giving praise to Lady Macbeth (Molly Coffey), another natural performer with excellent dissonant harmonies and an effortless head voice. However Coffey is less at ease with the prose and doesn’t come across harsh enough in the more famous monologues – “unsex me here” is much too soft and earnest.
Turning this masterpiece of Shakespeare into a musical isn’t without its faults. The main issue lies with how much of the meaning behind the key speeches is retained when they sung and not spoken. Naturally one is drawn to the musicality in the words and not necessarily the meaning behind them. This happens a number of times, none more so than in Macbeth’s famous “Is this a dagger I see before me?”. Garioch performs the resulting song well and the visual effect of using mirror fragments and light are executed effectively, but the core message is lost.
But, orchestration aside, the performance is as Macbeth should be – sinister, chilling and above all enthralling. The cast really put their all into this show and it pays off.
Macbeth plays at the New Town Theatre (venue 7) until August 30 as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. For more information, visit the Fringe website.