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Macbeth (Susan Elkin reviews)

Show: Macbeth

Society: New International Encounter Theatre

Venue: Gayhurst Community School, London E8 3EN

Credits: By William Shakespeare



3 stars

It’s always a pleasure to share a first (probably) experience of live Shakespeare with an exuberantly enthusiastic group of 10 and 11 year olds – in Hackney on this occasion.

And there is a lot to like about  NEI‘s three hander, mildly modernised,  55-minute version of the Scottish Play. It’s an inspired idea to create the characters and introduce them from a suitcase at the beginning and then to “find” the witches with a gauzy shared shawl and a bit of wafting stage smoke (designer: Rachana Jadhav).  I really liked Greg Hall’s music. He’s an accomplished cellist and his phone calls in modern “local” English to the professional assassin are a nice touch.  Segueing straight from the sleepwalking to “Out brief candle” by handing over a literal lighted candle works well too.

In short, using a text which neatly retains most of the famous original text lines but splices them together with current English and devices such as using phones for Macbeth’s letter home – another good idea – makes the story telling as clear as it could possibly be.

Abayomi Oniyde is a suitably troubled Macbeth, especially in the soliloquy scene before the murder of Duncan which is delivered as a partly adlib debate with the audience while he sits chummily amongst them on a suitcase. Valentina Creschi is manic as Lady Macbeth, confidently powerful as Macduff and gently thoughful as Banquo – she makes the distinctions very strongly. Greg Hall plays and produces sound effects almost continuously as well as morphing facially into one of the most sinister witches I’ve seen in a while.

Other characters are invited – Fleance, Malcolm and so on – from the audience as are the guests at the banquet and the English army. The actors are, though, on a learning curve with regard to young audience management which is not easy when you also need to stay in role. Given the level of excitement in the hall, the performance I saw came close several times to running out of control not least because of noise and continual incursions from nearby classrooms. This show is, however, at the beginning of its tour and this will improve. I’m sure director Michael Judge gave some useful notes afterwards.

No stage blood was used during this particular performance because there has recently been a violent death in the Gayhurst Community School community. This was carefully explained to me and apologised for. Actually convincing acting ensured that the lack of it barely noticed.

The question and answer session at the end was interesting. One perceptive girl shot straight to the crux of the play by asking: “Who really made Macbeth mad? Was it the witches or his wife?”  Well we’ve all written discursive exam answers to that question – O Level, GCSE, A Level, University etc – and of course, it’s definitively unanswerable which is the joy of Shakespeare and quite a discovery when you’re only ten. Michael Judge wisely turned the question back to the questioner.

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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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