Macbeth – Youth Music Theatre UK – Edinburgh Festival Fringe

2015MACBETH_AOMacbeth, presented by Youth Music Theatre UK with the Lyric Theatre Belfast, continues at the New Town Theatre until 30 August.

Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

On entering the theatre, an eerie soundscape fills the air; the stage is an enclosed area defined by large fences such as in West Side Story.  As the action begins, the dance ‘overture’ also echoes the energy and commitment in movement from that show. The choreography develops into portraying the unseen forces that shape the lives of people – the inevitable manipulation of our actions and directions that are beyond our control: breath-catching leaps as people are caught mid-air and turned away from where they were heading as the music builds up in layers of sound. A bank of video monitors show street riots and confrontations: now the fences reference the ‘kettling’ of rioters.

The highly stylised choreography and chorus movement is the most striking feature of this production. Rachel Birch-Lawson (choreographer) and Stuart Harvey (director) have to be applauded for achieving such high standards in this young ensemble. The sense of community and almost telepathic bonding is a joy to watch. The blend of hip-hop street dance styles and many original touches show great vision and are almost a parallel text to the play. Lady Macbeth’s entrance is particularly striking as she is unheeding of the way she is being moved through the air across and under the swarm of choral movement that propels her forwards.

It is also refreshing to hear so many Scots accents, particularly in the performances of the male members of the cast. Macbeth (Sam Garioch) is particularly strong as he clearly understands the character and his trajectory through the piece. He speaks the verse very well and has a stillness that draws us to him. Banquo shares the talent of drawing the eye and the ear – in addition, Rob Peacock’s Banquo has a very fine singing voice.

Witches abound in this production – thrice three – nine. These is a menacing chorus of seemingly broken clockwork dolls, excelling in keeping in character and awareness, wielding ropes to manipulate characters towards their fates. This is used to brilliant effect several times, and because the cast remains onstage throughout, we can see the performers’ reactions to the action as it develops. A ‘lead witch’ drives the inevitability and tragedy of the piece, singling herself out to manipulate and connive and whisper suggestion to drive the action forwards. It may be that this is a shorthand to compensate for some of the necessary cuts made to the text.

If there is a criticism, it is that the writers (Garth McConaghie and Stuart Harvey) have made some peculiar choices in the adaptation of the text. Macbeth remains one of the most popular of all Shakespeare’s plays because of the passion, the drive and pace all contribute to a pleasing experience for audiences. I missed the ‘Knock, knock’ joking of the Watchman and the crackle of passion between Macbeth and his Lady (Molly Coffey).

Occasionally, the lyrics are lost in the songs, but the overall meaning and progression of the story is still conveyed. The section of Macbeth’s ‘Is this a dagger’ song is particularly striking – use of hand-held torch lights and shards of mirrors as blades create the show’s highlight number. The close harmonies and the haunting strains of a solo violin across the top of the melody send shivers down the spine.

Fiona Orr


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