Junior Section

Macbeth the Musical Reviewed by Adam Cunis

21st September 2022

At the end of the summer term, we were incredibly pleased to welcome Adam Cunis as our guest at the Year 6 Play: Macbeth the Musical. Adam enjoyed the show and very kindly wrote a review of the performance.

‘Fair is foul, and foul is fair:

Hover through the fog and filthy air.’

Macbeth (the Musical), Act 1 Scene 1, A desert place (The Q.E. Hall.)

Thunder and lightning. Enter three Witches.

Oh hang on. Enter three witches and then another ten witches? I know James 1st was keen, he even wrote a book about them, but Mr Cheffins must really think witches are cool. Witches and… ROCK!

When I first heard about the year 6 2022 Summer production I knew I had to witness it. One train booked from London, a few months later and I was sitting in the front row of a familiar room, familiar but different; I know this story, I know it very well. But not like this. I was promised a Rock Opera and it was well and truly delivered (NB: title changed to Macbeth ‘the Musical’ perhaps to encourage ticket sales).

A tale of ‘vaunting ambition,’ secrecy, lies and bloody (watch your language) murder. Perfect for a bunch of school children then!

In my professional experience of Shakespeare it’s very easy for the audience to lose track of what’s going on, get bored and ultimately go home/ to the pub at the interval. We often view Shakespeare as stuffy, old fashioned and (dare I say it? With apologies to the English department)… boring.

That’s because actors, directors and theatre makers have been getting it wrong. Shakespeare is all about the audience. He might use fancy words but he’s here to help:

‘No, this my hand will rather

The multitudinous seas in incarnadine,

Making the green one red.’

Making the green one red. He’s there, immediately, explaining his complicated language. What does incarnadine mean? Red. How do we know? He tells us. And that’s exactly what year 6, ably supported by Messers Cheffins and Renshaw, did!

Firstly, the text; I was delighted to discover that huge swathes of it remained unaltered. Unaltered and beautifully, naturally delivered, rippling with nuance and understanding. The boys made stirling use of their skills. Facial expression, body language, tone of voice, pace shifts and an understanding of the rhythm and meter of the words that several professional actors I know would be rightly envious of.

 

The secondary text was equally well conceived and delivered. Our modern receipt of Shakespeare assumes a fixed nature of his words. Well, The Tragedie of Macbeth was first performed in 1606, early in the reign of James I, and they couldn’t even spell tragedy right. Not only that but it wasn’t properly published until 1623 as part of the first folio, some 8 years after Shakespeare died, remembered by actors, who may not even have been in the original show! It is therefore essential to update, edit and alter the words of the play to suit our current audience and current times. Mr Cheffins’ words wove in and around those of Mr Shakespeare, irreverent but always respectful. Clarifying and gently making fun of England’s most famous writer.

Particular highlights for me were the censorship of language like ‘Bloody’, ‘bosom,’ etc by Malcolm, here a prudish and fourth wall obliterating Luke Gallagher. His performance reminded me in part of Hugh Laurie in Blackadder the Third and in part was very Carry On (boys, don’t watch this for at very least 5 years please).

The introduction of characters to a 400 year old play may be surprising to some but the addition of the cleaner and general house staff (castle staff?) at the Macbeth’s place was very well observed. The idea of an exasperated cleaner in a castle steeped in blood had me and those around me in stitches of laughter and fits of applause. Alastair Helm reminded me of various Monty Python characters, and the outfit was perfect, indeed in my own storytelling version of Macbeth I include a cleaner.

The music was great fun. QEGS has a great tradition of rock music in general and classic rock in particular, a genre too old for me and my classmates but nonetheless something we inherited shortly after stepping into those shorts and getting put into our houses 20+ years ago.

Clearly Mr Renshaw and Mr Cheffins had an extreme amount of fun putting this together and it really paid off.

From ‘Blood soaked dagger’ (to the tune of all time classic ‘Cat Scratch Fever’) to ‘Crazy Horses,’ during which the MD donned a particularly frightening rubber mask, the music and the rewritten lyrics injected such pace and energy that any concerns about an audience holding interest in a story from 1057 were completely forgotten. This was Macbeth, but it was Macbeth you could jump up and down to, air guitar to, sing along to.

The music also underscored much of the violence and action sequences. Head banging witches (making sense of there being so many of them, it’s so important in these times of crisis to keep local wig making business in profit), red flooded lights, kitchen utensils strewn liberally around.

It may sound as if this was all a bit mad, and it was, but it must be stated clearly that this production was always riding the wave, bringing the audience with it, contrasting high energy with really moving emotional depth and stillness. Ethan Langstaff and Aurav Vinta were superb as Macbeth and his Lady respectively. Ethan gave guilt ridden regret and over commitment to his damned cause whilst Aurav was chillingly evil. I’m always sad we don’t see more of Lady Macbeth in the text.

‘She should have died hereafter;

There would have been a time for such a word.’

A successful production gives you tears, laughter, a racing heart and a rousing dance. Macbeth the Musical gave all this and more. Between the Witches, the murderers, the Lords and Thanes, the story was in safe hands, confident and collaborative this was a company production nonpareil. Boys and staff should be incredibly proud of the work they put in, your audiences adored you. I’m still thinking about the play 3 weeks on as I finally find time to write this review. I’m sure that you will remember this show for years to come, I certainly vividly remember Joseph from 2000. I hope you remember the camaraderie and the joy. That’s what Shakespeare (and Mr Cheffins and Mr Renshaw) can do for you. If anyone says to you ‘Shakespeare’s boring isn’t he?’ You can gleefully tell them ‘no,’ and start tapping a beat…

 

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