Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Macbeth

Re-imagined for everyone aged six and over
By William Shakespeare
Regent's Park Open Air Theatre
(2010)

Production photo

Who said the Scottish play is one of Shakespeare's tragedies? In this year's family show at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre Macbeth plays with panto, gorges on gore and sloshes about in silliness.

Some minor characters have been combined into one and some text has been cut or re-ordered but the story is undeniably there and recognisably in Shakespeare's words albeit with a contemporary introduction. The Bard is unlikely to be revolving in his grave; may be just fidgeting.

What makes this violent piece palatable for the young is the comic strip goodies and baddies approach, emphasised by a massive white paper backdrop on to which names, titles and images are spray-painted and projected during the performance. Where this aspect of the set design (by Gideon Davey) wins out is that even if the accumulated graffiti isn't needed to follow the story, it seems to help recapture straying attention and the children clearly revel in the destruction of the backdrop as the action progresses.

Director Steve Marmion (soon to take up Artistic Directorship of Soho Theatre) also makes full fun use of a pond that forms the focus of the set. It is a bog on "the blasted heath", the trough where bloody hands are washed, Macbeth's bath and the witches cauldron. If that isn't enough it makes a great place to have a fight and Ross meets a watery end there, and more besides.

Panto elements in evidence include the audience participating with "Hail! King of Scotland" whenever one of the characters says it (another good attention focusing technique), branch waving in relation to Birnam Woods and lots of music. This includes some wonderfully apt scene-setting compositions from Tom Mills, covering menace and mounting tension to Dan Dare-like chase music added to which there is a touch of 'Jerusalem' for Malcolm's return to Scotland from England, and a couple of songs as well. The best of these is the Witches' incantation set to a very catchy tune and staged with real wit.

There is nothing to be scared of here. The witches are alien-looking puppets with big eyes, the fights are full of action and the violence takes place off stage or is so over-the-top gory and blood-spattered as to provoke gleefully revolted "yuks" and "err-ahs" from the audience.

The six-strong cast are extremely dynamic. Harry McEntire plays Malcolm with a youthful bounciness and his enthusiastic warm-up and introduction to the central play guarantees him a career playing Buttons for Christmases to come, with hopefully meatier stuff in the hotter seasons.

Trevor White and Golda Roheuvel are a passionate Mr and Mrs Macbeth. White throws himself completely into the role and seems to delight in the blood-thirstiness of the later murders with villainous joy. Roheuvel's sleep-walking scene was captivating and was rewarded by applause.

Ross and Banquo are played by Josephine Butler, female but with an ability to be pleasingly tough giving all-comers a run for their money in the fight scenes, and Macduff is given a modern-day sensitive hero image by Simon Trinder in a strong performance as this Scottish nobleman.

Eamon Boland plays regal Duncan initially and then delivers a well-timed marvellously comic performance as nasty piece of work Seyton. As Macbeth's servant he is a melange of black and white movie weirdoes of the likes of Max the Butler in Sunset Boulevard and Batman's nemesis The Joker but looking more like something from The Cabinet of Dr Caligari.

This visually striking and high energy production is a curious mix of original text and express-delivery entertainment. Is it true to the spirit of Macbeth? Not really, but who cares if it is this much fun?

"Macbeth" plays until 31 July. Running time is 2 hours with one interval

Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti