THEATRE REVIEW : Macbeth – National Youth Theatre 2018 Rep Company  

The National Youth Theatre Rep Company is a vocational training group of 15 or 16 actors aged 18-25 who present a West End season at the end of their quasi-course. It’s the top tier of NYT’s work. Most participants go straight on to professional work.

Abridged to 90 interval-less minutes by Moira Buffini and pithily directed by Natasha Nixon this Macbeth is terrific – maybe the best production I’ve ever seen. It’s full of fresh, very effective ideas such as overtly doubling the witches with the assassins and casting this talented company in an imaginatively gender fluid way.

A female Macbeth (Olivia Dowd) is in a same sex relationship with Isabel Adomakoh Young’s Lady Macbeth. Both are fine actors, totally on top of the verse and able to make every line clear and laden with meaning. Dowd’s mood swings as we watch her spiralling into tyranny are immaculately observed and, often, powerfully understated. And her final fight with Oseloka Obi (directed by Kate Waters) as Macduff is so convincing that it seems quite surprising that she’s on her feet for a curtain call a few moments later.

Watch out for the highly talented Aidan Cheng. I’ve now seen him in all three 2018 NYT rep company shows and I’m certain we shall be seeing a lot more of him very soon. In Macbeth he plays a hideously menacing – terrifying in fact – first witch wearing a ballet skirt, football socks and platform heels. He leers, threatens, simpers … and it’s sinister. I liked Jeffrey Sangalang’s lithely simian second witch scuttling round the stage like a spider too. And Simran Hunjun’s third witch is extraordinary. Hunjun has a lot of sleek dark hair which forms part of her rigid red costume – very ingenious as well as unsettlingly creepy.

It’s a very physical take on the play as an ensemble piece. The bloody sergeant for example emerges from a pile of writhing bodies and the apparitions pop out from the skirts of a huge stilted figure like grotesque birth. I was less enamoured by the tree at the back of Mayou Trikeritoi’s set which reminded me of Jack’s beanstalk, but it’s a tiny gripe.

Review by Susan Elkin