By Danielle Farrow
The Macbeth Project sees pupils in a drama class tackle Shakespeare’s famous Scottish play, with plenty of modern rhyming couplets from writer Chris Duffy, apt music by Jason Orringe, and, eventually, some of Shakespeare‘s lines as well. The drama teacher is not always there, then not all there. A romantic couple turn into scheming – and quite possibly murdering – actors, forcing their will on the other players. There’s the one who has actually done the work, the one who is just terrified of failing, an ‘experimental theatre’ section, quite possibly a play within a play, and there is Will himself, sort of. And – of course – there are witches…
Erskine Stewart’s Melville Schools present their pupils in this musical which takes great inspiration from Macbeth, shows intelligence in songs commenting on what school is like for both pupils and teachers, and starts with fine focus, energy and entertainment. These flag somewhat – indeed, the play over-runs by 15 mins. and does feel too lengthy near the end – but overall there is both fun and insight.
Throughout it all, many in this cast perform with confidence, clarity and talent, though these are school pupils performing and voices do not always blend particularly well in songs, nor are all lines delivered with conviction. Also, some of the music seems rather written by numbers – particularly those of the big Lloyd Webber musical type. This, however, could be deliberate, just as may be the case with the song that replaces the dagger speech, which is poor in its lyrics – creating great longing for the original – and which therefore could be seen as helping to make sense of Macbeth being replaced as lead actor.
There are also catchy tunes, at least one sticking around to be hummed afterwards, and a wonderfully eerie number where the teacher controls her pupil’s concentration. The set is obviously, and aptly, a drama studio, with the teacher’s desk becoming a highlight, a rolling chair put to good use and a wardrobe that provides helpful entrances and exits. Hanging light bulbs add a little extra to different lighting states and the sound technology, while occasionally giving feedback, serves the space well. Though design is fairly simple in what is presented, it sets the scenes excellently and fills the space, as does Chris Duffy’s direction.
The Macbeth Project offers quirky ideas, unexpected special effects and entertaining wit and wisdom, and serves these up with live music and considerable accomplishment on the part of its creators, director and young performers.