Unsurprisingly – since its performers aren’t far out of their teens – the National Youth Theatre’s ‘Macbeth’ is as bold and moody as a slammed bedroom door. Moira Buffini’s text strips Shakespeare’s tragedy back to a broody 100 minutes which focuses on glam, gothed-up atmosphere, not battles. And Natasha Nixon’s production is, like the best family rows, a tiny bit ridiculous even when it’s at its very fiercest.
Nixon’s most striking move is turning the three witches into a trio who could’ve stumbled out of Dalston drag hole The Glory at 4am. Huge shoulderpads, vertiginous heels and voguing-inspired moves make them hags to remember, even if their OTT antics are more endearing than scary. Perhaps as a respectful nod to London’s youth knife-crime epidemic, she also swaps the swords and fake blood of a trad ‘Macbeth’ for a more magical kind of violence. Lady Macduff is dispatched with a twist of a red Rubik’s cube, and Macbeth’s final stand feels like a Hogwarts-esque wizard duel, with invisible beams springing from the performers’ hands.
It says a lot about how commonplace gender-blind casting is in 2018 Shakespeare productions that the swapping in this ‘Macbeth’ doesn’t feel all that radical: Macbeth and Duncan (Olivia Dowd and Marilyn Nnadebe) make a convincing pair of troubled leaders, with Dowd visibly unseated by this breathless torrent of supernatural horrors.
But although the pace works, some of the story’s most crucial moments don’t. Banquo’s ghost looks like he’s come out the other end of a particularly gruelling stag party: his appearance at dinner causes muffled amusement, not horror. And the always-tricky-to-stage murder of Macduff’s son is less than heartbreaking. Still, Macbeth’s carefully drawn relationship with Lady Macbeth (Isabel Adomakoh Young) is intriguing enough to give this production a fascination of its own, all troubled warmth in a show that’s icily cool.