Macbeth: National Youth Theatre
- Venue: Ambassadors Theatre, London
- Director: Ed Hughes
- Designer: James Button
“How is't with me, when every noise appals me?” One of the many disparate elements in Ed Hughes’s production of Macbeth for the National Youth Theatre is an over elaborate sound design that threatens to undermine competent verse speaking by the actors.
Given present centenary events, the creative team appears to have seen one too many productions of Oh! What A Lovely War!
While the historical backdrop is Prussia or the Balkans, the cultural influences lurch from Pierrot clowns to Parisian accordion playing in the porter scene.
Hughes hitches a free ride from Joan Littlewood but his production is in no way Brechtian. Helped by lavish costumes and an unsubtle insistence that this is a martial society, Jeremy Neumark Jones (Macbeth) negotiates the first hurdle of convincing us that he is a career soldier. He is generally first-rate with a real sense of narrative arc and development during the major soliloquies, notably in “To be thus is nothing” where he benefits from lighting designer Adam Povey’s thrilling use of shadows in the parade of kings.
Elsewhere, bizarre directorial decisions see the murdered Duncan, with no costume change, appear as a guest in the banquet scene during a pointless slow-motion robotic dance, this being one of many sequences that had me fearing how the predominantly curriculum audience might be faring with the plot.
As Banquo, Sam Hevicon understands every nuance of his lines, is convincing with some naturalistic stage business, acquires character detail subtly and generally acts his colleagues off the stage. He should surely have been considered for the title character. Sophie Dyke has abundant presence as Lady Macbeth, reads the letter from the battlefield wonderfully but seems rooted in a central position and rarely looks anywhere other than the stalls.
She is not helped by poor direction that sees her deliver the line “Your face, my thane, is as a book …” when she has not made eye contact with her husband for several minutes. If the director is paying so little attention to the basic meaning of the dialogue then there is little hope for the production. Dyke has much talent and could have proved outstanding with better guidance.
“I pray you, remember the porter.” It would be difficult not to. A protean Grace Chilton morphs from First Witch to the porter to the servant who warns Macbeth that Birnam Wood is on the move. She is a natural comic with an instinctive sense of timing and a rare gift for establishing immediate rapport with the audience. Chilton is one of a handful of performers to come out of this with credit though she should bear in mind that less is often more, and her accordion-playing porter scene at times teetered on becoming a static set piece.
Generally, even the most ardent supporter of the National Youth Theatre would concede that on this showing we do not have a future household name in the current crop of hopefuls. But much of the blame for this wasted opportunity lies with director Ed Hughes; he rarely grasps coherent ideas that will propel us to the end of the play and often makes lazy flamboyant choices that must have set a poor precedent for any young director in the audience considering Macbeth as a future project.