Witches capture Bard

5th May 2000 at 01:00
I must admit to having my doubts when the Scottish Youth Theatre trailed their up-coming Shakespeare with phrases like "Macbeth meets The Matrix", wary of yet another evening watching a director hurl exciting ideas, hit or miss, at this indestructible old play. Not a bit of it. Mary McCluskey's latest production is a highly intelligent, deeply felt investigation of the forces that power the tragedy, a finely integrated piece of theatre, and anyone who has booked for a school party can look forward with confidence.

"Macbeth meets the witches" might be a more apt phrase, for the production makes the weird sisters his real antagonists. From their entrances after the prologue of a wordless battle between Cawdor and Macbeth, they dominate both the play and the flawed hero. The trio, mildly menacing in their boots, leather and dark glasses, are miked up so that their voices can boom or whisper through the Citizens' Theatre in the opening incantation of "Foul is fair" backed by the uneasy disco beat to which they ritually dance.

From then on, they dominate, providers of dagger, spectators of the murders, raising the corpses,guests at the banquet. Before the "cauldron" scene, they dance like dervishes, preparing for the drug-induced hallucinations of Macbeth. When he is dead, on-stage, at Macduff's hand, they return to his wife.

I found this a more satisfying ending than Shakespeare's, and the play benefits from jettisoning what we presume was the flattery aimed at James l and VI, paring down the script to the bare bones of the story for, as every teacher knows, the only difficulty with Shakespeare is Shakespeare. The production's answer to the difficulty of the language is to regard the verse as prose, poken in contemporary cadences, in staccato phrases. Although this helps the "accessibility", it hobbles the verse, and erodes the energy of the dialogue.

Interestingly, in the impressive Birnham Wood scenes, when the army slowly advances downstage, marching to the beat of the drum, Siward (Fergus McCann)and Macduff (Fraser Macleod) have no difficulty in finding the pulse of the lines, and then the performance gathers pace it never loses. The cast is strong throughout. Gregor Mackay's cleanly spoken Macbeth is a tortured spirit from the start, but with the energy for sword-play at the end. Banquo (John Austin) has considerable presence and voice, and maybe the best moment in the production when, blooded, he leaps on the banqueting table. The company can be grateful to their production team, particularly for the important music score from Keith Munro, and the eclectic wardrobe of Moira Bromley-Wiggins.

This impressive production is part of a project organised by the education department of the Shakespeare Centre in Stratford-upon-Avon and designed to involve thousands of young people round the world with the "man of the millennium". Globally, there are responses as far afield as the USA, Russia, India and Thailand, but in the United Kingdom nine groups, of which the SYT can claim to be the most northerly, locate their Shakespeare performances as part of the New Experiences in the Millennium Festival. Each of these nine groups is sending recorded productions to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford to join a millennium archive.

Touring:Dunoon May 6, MacRobert Stirling May 12,13; Festival Theatre Edinburgh May 26,27: Stranraer June 9, 10.

Scottish Youth Theatre 0141 221 5127

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