The National Youth Theatre’s Macbeth, directed by Natasha Nixon, is a disappointing outing for what should be up-and-coming performers of talent: no one comes off as well as they should in this bloodless bore-fest of a production.
The entire thing is like a mismatched collection of jigsaw pieces from different puzzles. We open with the visually arresting witches, styled in avant-garde fashion, although this kind of stylistic bombast is not carried through the rest of the production, with many of the performers in a non-specific series of muted blacks and blues whilst Malcolm is dressed for some curious reason like Rupert Bear in tweed. Macduff is gorgeous in a long skirt and jerkin, although why he is the only character thus attired is unclear. Satan comes forth on stilts with an enormous black skirt to birth the visions at Macbeth’s request – a fantastic and innovative image, until you clock that the top half of this creature has been left in her costume from a previous character, an incongruous white shirt and tweed jacket.
The only costumes – and indeed character – which seemed to be have given more than twenty seconds coherent thought belong to the first witch/murderer. This haunting, lipstick smeared grin of the witch translates into a t-shirt with the same leer for an unusual and modern murderer. Henceforth to be known as “Committed Witch”, Aidan Cheng deserves to be mentioned for his stand-alone performance in a production of murky nothingness and shouting. Convincingly otherworldly in heel-less shoes and a white tulle skirt, his witch’s physicality moves beyond the malaise of the general crouch that besets the rest of the cast. He moves from this sing-song apparition into a jerky, nerdy murderer who comes to announce the death of Banquo clutching a red balloon emblazoned with “Congratulations”. Both in terms of stylisation and performance, Cheng was one of the few aspects of this production to make any sense or to excite.
The best scene, however, did not involve Committed Witch until its later stages – the scene between Lady Macduff and her little boy. This was the most effective scene in the whole production, with Francesca Regis and Fred Hughes-Stanton performing the jaw-dropping feat of actually talking to each other and creating some genuine connection to their characters and the text. It was charming and movingly understated, lending the death of the child a genuine sense of horror that is otherwise completely absent. It was the one instance in this production in which actors connected to the text at all: Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in particular fall foul of being singularly one-note the entire way through, with apparently very little concept of the horrors of which they speak. The key gender-blind casting is a nothingness gimmick, with no conceptualisation of the character or the central relationship.
A production of absences is perhaps the best way to describe this Macbeth: an unforgiveable absence of key props (“why did you bring these daggers from the place?” exclaims Lady Macbeth, looking at thin air); an absence of connection to text, character, or situation; an absence of conceptual structuring of the piece. It’s extremely frustrating, especially when elements of thought stab through the murk – the use of a face-mask to signify death was particularly effective, and the recurrence of the various dead coming back to haunt and torment could have been very striking if pushed a little further. The casting double of the witches/murderers was interesting too, if for the most part stylistically incoherent.
As it stands, this Macbeth is amateurish and boring, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.