Book and lyrics by Julian Chenery, music by Matt Gimblett, based on Shakespeare
A musical adaptation by Shakespeare 4 Kidz
Sunderland Empire and touring

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I first saw Shakespeare 4 Kidz' production of Macbeth, also at the Empire, back in 2003, so when I was invited to review it again this week I thought it was time to take another look.

The important thing, of course, is that it is exactly what it says on the tin: Shakespeare for kids, an attempt to make Macbeth accessible for (primarily) primary school children but the audience I was part of included a fair sprinkling of secondary and even some who seemed to me to be college students.

What S4K does is to simplify the language, whilst retaining as much of the orginal as possible, so we get "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day" but we lose "These hands would rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine", which is fair enough. The plot remains unchanged; the speeches are as they were but with the language easier for the target audience to understand. The concessions are made to the level of language understood by the audience: there is no dumbing down of the plot or characterisation.

But music? It does seem odd to have parts of Macbeth sung. Many of the witches scenes are sung - "Double, Double / Toil and Trouble" is an obvious song - but what Chenery and Gimblett have chosen to do is make some of the soliloquies into song, but they have done this with sensitivity - and chosen only those which lend themselves to such a transformation - so it does work. There is a final song too, "From Today", which, like the final speech of the play, looks forward to a better future for Scotland. It's an appropriately rousing number - and still reminds me of "Do You Hear the People Sing?"!

Shakespeare felt it necessary to insert some comic relief in the form of the Porter but even for adults most of the humour of this scene is lost because of language changes and, of course, changes in society (and in sense of humour), so Chenery has chosen to use an approach with which the target audience will be familiar and which is pitched at their level - the comic's interaction with the audience in a pantomime. And that, of course, inevitably includes audience reaction (a string of "knock, knock" jokes), a little mild rudeness and a little clever playing with the original. "Do you know what an equivocator is? Of course you do: it's someone who equivocates!" But he did explain what that means, so we had a little bit of language development too!

One thing is certain: the children in that audience - and, of course, in all the other audiences S4K play to - will not be scared of Shakespeare or regard it with almost traditional suspicion but will have a memory of a gripping play whcih they enjoyed. And that can only be a good thing!

Reviewer: Peter Lathan

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