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Macbeth – Shakespeare 4 Kidz (Susan Elkin reviews)

Shakespeare4Kidz has developed a fine formula over the years. Although they also do other shows these days, their core business remains musical versions of Shakespeare plays adapted by Julian Chenery, who also directs, with music by Matt Gimblett. Their Macbeth has been around for a while but this was the first performance of this revival and, golly, how it has developed, matured and improved since I first saw it. Of course, given that this was the first preview, there were a few technical problems and hitches which it would be inappropriate to dwell on. Suffice it to say they will be sorted.

The witch’s chants might have been written for song and dance (and perhaps they were?). Here Clare Reilly, Megan Ashley and Chloe Adele Edwards sweep big brown semi-circular cloaks, cackling out incantations with sinister clarity and arresting stage presence. And Chenery is the only director I know who includes Hecate. Her scene is usually cut because it is thought that it was a later inclusion simply to feed 17th century audience appetite for witchcraft. And that’s exactly what Chenery, with Marcelo Cervone on guitar as Hecate, does with it – to good effect.

Dark lighting, lumps of stony scenery, a projected backdrop and atmospheric sound including shrieks, bumps and birds all create the mood which Macbeth needs if it is to work. There are a number of good actor musicians in this cast of thirteen and Chenery, and musical director Michael Webborn, use them at the edge of the stage to support centre stage action.

Nathan Turner is a truly convincing Macbeth – and they’re rare. This is a very difficult play to bring off and many a famous title role has failed to convince me over the years. Turner, who has a magnificent speaking voice, resonant singing voice and a habit of expressive sniffing which could do with curbing, gets the right blend of bravery and moderate ambition at the beginning followed by indecision at the first murder. Then he heads into a pretty graphic form of PTSD at the banquet and then to full blown manic tyranny. And yet, he moved me so much at the “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” speech after hearing of his wife’s death that I had to reach for a tissue. Quite an achievement.

Rebecca Gilliland is a powerful Lady Macbeth too. She brings poise and resolution to the role and makes her character seem very charismatic and attractive. Her descent into murder and, eventually, madness is therefore all the more horrifying. She sings like a nightingale and congratulations to whoever chose/made/designed that fabulous green velvet dress.

The music hall style-song – all hung on traditional dominant seven chords, with a slow narrative followed by a fast repeated verse – Gimblett gives the Porter (Joshua Considine) is spot on. So are the Porter’s witty knock knock jokes. Terry Ashe gives us a plausible Duncan (among other roles), Craig Anderson is a strong curly-haired Banquo and Blair Robertson finds plenty of angry warmth and might in McDuff. This is, however, very much an ensemble piece and almost everyone is busy almost continually.

What I like very much about Chenery’s script and song words is that, although a lot of it is modern-ish English for clarity of story telling, he uses Shakespeare’s words wherever he can. That means that young audiences, most of whom won’t be aware of who wrote which, really are exposed to a taste of Britian’s greatest ever writer. It’s accessibility without dumbing down.

Immediately after its short run in Sevenoaks, this impressive show is heading for a Middle East tour where, in places such as Bahrain and Dubai, it will play in both public and school theatres.

First published by Sardines:

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Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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