What a relief! A good Macbeth. Recent productions of the Scottish play haven’t fared particularly well. The Royal Shakespeare’s version (Barbican) being distinctly ‘ok’, and the Globe’s recent production having mixed reviews. How refreshing to see a young company rescue Macbeth from the talons of the Establishment.
The opening scene of the Scottish Play is perhaps the most important, as it sets the tone of the production in more ways than one. If the Weird Sisters are evil, rather than spiritual, we have a play about power, and it can be difficult to relate to the greedy schemers. If the Sisters are witchy rather than political, we have a play about magic and spirits, and it all seems a bit whimsical. For my money, NYT REP company get it bang on target. Aidan Cheng, Simran Hunjun and Jeffrey Sangalang are equal parts bizarre as they are terrifying. Cheng is a topless, face painted, tutu-wearing comedian, alongside Hunjun’s enormous, red, rectangular cylinder of a dress. A mad mix of
Machiavelli and magic.
Macbeth and her lady add the second key balance. Is it Lady Macbeth egging on her remorseful Queen? Is Macbeth evil from the start? Are they both just mad? Keen-sighted readers will note that I refer to Macbeth as ‘queen’. NYT REP’s production is gender-flipped, mixed, fluid and fashionable.
The decision to cast Olivia Dowd as Macbeth is brilliant in many respects; aside from her fantastic performance, the introduction of gender into a largely male play (hell, a largely male theatre history) problematises the gendered associations of power and scheming. Isabel Adomakoh Young’s Lady Macbeth finds an excellent combination of insanity and desperation, and the relationship between these two notably impressive performances is toxically electric.
So much, so mesmerising. T’wasnt perfect. An otherwise fascinating production was brought back a little by some lacklustre choices. Perhaps because the company were sharing the space with Don Quixote (performing in the evening on the same stage), there wasn’t really anything in the way of set, lighting or sound. Circumstances granted, given such a stylistic costume design, this was something of a letdown.
Overall, though, this is a really strong performance from such a young cast. Macbeth can be something of a tricky beast to control, with potentially implausible plot lines and a general sense of mysticism which modern audiences are perhaps less interested in. Dowd and Young, in particular, should take immense credit for finding centrally important balances in a hugely enjoyable production.
Review by Thomas Froy
The National Youth Theatre present a brand new gender fluid adaptation of Shakespeare’s sinister tale of greed, betrayal and revenge by NYT Alumna Moira Buffini (wonder.land, Handbagged).
The gender-fluid production stars two female leads, with the role of Macbeth played by Olivia Dowd and the role of Lady Macbeth by Isabel Adomakoh Young. Macbeth is the third and final production in the National Youth Theatre’s 2018 West End REP season, following a world premiere of Victoria’s Knickers and Evan Placey’s critically-acclaimed Consensual.
By William Shakespeare
Abridged by Moira Buffini
Directed by Natasha Nixon