It is very ambitious of the National Youth Theatre REP Company to stage one of Shakespeare’s most prominent plays with such a young cast of performers, but I thoroughly applaud their effort with this visceral and engaging production. With such a cast it is difficult to portray the immense ambition and ego that the characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth must represent, when so fresh-faced and youthful as actors. I must admit, however, I was convinced completely by the commanding and effective performances of Jeremy Neumark Jones as Macbeth and Sophie Dyke as Lady Macbeth.
Jones as Macbeth is full of life, communicated passionately and performed with great diction. Dyke, opposite him, is a Lady Macbeth to be rivalled. It is a pity that this adaption, abridged by Ed Hughes, cuts so much material from the original that she is left so little to blossom in the role. Considering the little Dyke had, her portrayal ultimately prevailed and shone most brightly, particularly in the banquet scene when Banquo’s ghost appears. Sam Hevicon also stood out as Banquo, delivering lines with great depth and understanding.
This Macbeth is set in the early twentieth-century German empire, King Duncan is its kaiser and Macbeth a high ranking officer in the army. If you ignore the references to Scottish thanes, the setting is perfectly acceptable and at the least presents Shakespeare’s tragedy in a new light. Accompanying the turn-of-the-century feel, NYT has incorporated the grotesque and humorous circus performers and women of ill-repute (the Weird Sisters), and their music, into Macbeth’s world of desire and guilt. The main musical segment assisted as a useful segue between the interval, in which the actors appeared on stage improvising, and the action beginning the second half of the performance. The scene that followed, Macbeth’s second visit to the Weird Sisters, included some striking shadow puppetry and atmospheric musical additions making it one of the most memorable of the play. The lead of the musical troupe was Grace Chilton as the Porter, and by extending the role became the play’s fool, leading the band in music. Chilton is stand-out in her performance, violent and completely engaging in her role. At times too much, to the detriment of the text, but a charming portrayal full of energy nonetheless.
With the aforementioned cuts to Shakespeare’s original, it was at times difficult to follow the action. Developments in plot occurred quickly and frequently and left little time to settle before storming on to the next. However, with the affecting performances of the lead cast this adaption was ultimately very successful in presenting the heart of Shakespeare’s bloody tale.
Macbeth is playing the Ambassadors Theatre until 26 November. For more information and tickets, see the National Youth Theatre website. Photo by Ellie Kurttz.