Space is in such short supply on the West End that the National Youth Theatre’s vibrant production of Macbeth is only playing matinees, fitting around the RSC’s Don Quixote at the Garrick. If this limits their staging, they have made a virtue of it: the production runs for 100 minutes straight through, so they must be well out of the way by the time David Threlfall needs to get into his dressing room.
And there is little need for a set when the play begins with the three majestic witches: Aidan Cheng in white tulle skirt and black patent fetish shoes, Jeffrey Sangalang in white face paint and white cropped trousers with a white backpack bandaged to his body, and Simran Hunjun in a shoulder-padded red column which reaches to the floor. All three have dark, swollen, berry-coloured lips. Their twisted sexuality is only more disconcerting when they double as the murderers of Banquo and Macduff’s wife and child. Sangalang – now dressed entirely in red – breaks the neck of his quarry with a terrifying ruthlessness. Moments later he appears in Macbeth’s castle to bring the news, carrying a red balloon that reads, ‘Congratulations.’
Moira Buffini’s ruthless edit gives the play an urgency and focus that it all too often lacks, concentrating on the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth (played by Olivia Dowd and Isabel Adomakoh Young in this gender-fluid version). Dowd is utterly convincing as a woman who will commit murder to slake her own and her wife’s ambition. Their intimacy, brutality and fear are shared: Young expresses real horror when she claims that she would have murdered Duncan (Marilyn Nnadebe) ‘had she not resembled my mother as she slept.’
The depiction of guilt is one of the play’s less successful elements: although the blacked-out mouths of the ghosts are the stuff of nightmares, they provoke nervous laughter from the audience rather than fear. But under Natasha Nixon’s slick direction, the production rarely drops pace, rushing us to Macbeth’s final battle against the raging Macduff (an excellent Oseloka Obi), as her confidence gradually yields to fear and terrible certainty.