Young Everyman and Playhouse make a triumphant return in this production of Macbeth after 18 months of uncertainty. Like the rest of the theatre industry, Covid forced YEP to postpone plans for this show before it even got off the ground. The past year has been a rollercoaster of rescheduling and, even at a very late stage, recasting, as cast members had to move on in their lives without completing this work.
All the more impressive, then, that they have brought this timeless classic to the stage with such polish. In the open air setting of St Luke’s Church, they rise above the acoustic challenges of outdoor theatre to deliver a powerful rendering of Shakespeare’s bloody tale of power and infamy.
Music from a three piece band to the rear of the stage sets the scene and we discover the Weird Sisters, brooms replaced by brushes, in the guise of sweepers, clearing up the debris from a city street. This is a gritty, urban reading of the text, with the traditional daggers replaced by flick knives. It doesn’t stray as far from the original as Arthur Laurents did in adapting Romeo and Juliet into West Side Story, but it takes similar steps in pulling the material into a modern setting and bringing youth to its characters.
There is gender-fluid casting throughout, which broadens the emotional canvas and frees the performers to explore their parts in new ways. This is most immediately apparent in the casting of Chloe Hughes in the title role. Hughes plays the King with far more venom and seething jealousy than the part generally receives. She is very much the schemer, and more than usually willing to follow the ambitions of the Machiavellian Lady Macbeth.
As The Lady, Madeline Darcy Cole gives what must be the stand-out performance of the show. Her every move and expression is pitch-perfect and her delivery of the text is flawless. She in particular triumphs over the difficulties of being heard in an open air space, competing with a background of traffic and screeching gulls. Indeed the entire cast have worked exceptionally hard on their vocal projection and, even when out of range of the field mics which are there to assist them, there is barely a word that fails to reach the audience with clarity.
Other highlights among the strong casting are Phil Rayner’s Banquo, Jake Holmes’s Macduff and Jack Molloy, whose Malcolm carries much more conviction than his peremptory Porter. Particular mention should go to Jack Holmes and Grace Maude who wrote the music which underpins the show. Alongside Sammi Baleid they form the onstage band as well as taking a variety of parts in the action.
This is an urgent, fiery reading of the play maintaining an unstoppable pace and gripping its audience throughout. It is a performance that any company could be justly proud of, so it’s hats-off to director Chris Tomlinson and the YEP company who pull it off with flair under the most extreme of production difficulties.