Shakespeare is a little like broccoli – at least as far as kids are concerned. They approach him and his work in the same way they do the gaseous green vegetable – with reluctance, suspicion and a lot of groaning. His plays are impossible to understand and nippers would rather have their toe-nails individually pulled out than read one (‘Andrew, you’re line 16 to 20’) or, heaven forbid, sit through one in the theatre. Right? Wrong. We learned that last year British theatre company Shakespeare 4 Kidz, or S4K for short, brought their rollicking, musical version of Romeo & Juliet to the country, leaving pint-sized theatre-goers wide-eyed and agog at the rock ’n’ roll interpretation of the bard’s most famous love story.
We were delighted to hear S4K was returning to the Middle East, but when we they said they were bringing Macbeth to our stages, we were, we confess, a little skeptical. Transforming Shakespeare’s complex work into something understandable and enjoyable for kids is obviously something at which the group excels, but is putting on this blood-soaked story of ambition, murder and madness just asking for double trouble?
Perhaps not. The tale of the power-mad Scottish warrior and his evil, neurotic wife, encompasses black magic, weird witches, prophecies, and a forest that moves. It will no doubt thrill any kid who delights in the gruesome and revels in the bloodthirsty (most kids these days seem to enjoy taking a trip to the dark side). In fact, for a generation raised on Hogwarts, Macbeth may even make Harry Potter look tame.
As the play’s director and S4K founder Julian Chenery says, ‘It’s scary and spooky, but we haven’t yet heard of any kids having night terrors after seeing our Macbeth.’ He adds, ‘Macbeth is about how this bloke gets overwhelmed by power and glory, and what he does to achieve his aims. It’s about wicked people doing dreadful things, and everyone loves a bit of blood. Boys especially – they love a good sword fight and a
bit of murder.’
Chenery lists a few ‘lovely gory bits’ such as the appearance of a blood-drenched Banquo’s ghost, and, our personal favourite, the wonderfully brutal ‘severed head on a stick moment’, when brave Macduff trots in with the slain Macbeth. But Chenery is keen to stress there’s no gratuitous violence. ‘It’s not Inglourious Basterds,’ he says. ‘King Duncan’s murder happens off stage in the original play and does so in our version. Likewise, Macbeth is beheaded off-stage. We adjust the gruesome bits to suit the fact that our audience is predominantly school children, but to leave them out altogether would betray the intention of William Shakespeare.’
S4K pares down the original prose, but keeps all the memorable quotes (‘Double, double toil and trouble’ and ‘Out, damned spot!’ are all there), adding a bit of modern language, a hefty dose of humour (apparently there are a few so-bad-they’re-good knock knock jokes thrown in) some catchy tunes (‘Banquo Must Go’ and ‘How Do You Murder a King?’), as well as a few raucous rounds of Celtic dancing.
Chenery adds, ‘There is plenty of atmosphere – lighting, sound effects and the witches – they are the prime movers on the dark side, and their costumes are brilliant. But the songs and dance certainly lighten things up. There is a brilliant dance sequence opening the second half, and the porter, who Shakespeare intended to provide the comic interlude, is extremely funny. Everyone loves him.’
Big and bold, this is a horror story, a tragic play and a pantomime rolled into one. But best of all, the music and movement combo provides a wordless subtitling useful for any kid (or adult, for that matter) struggling to follow the convoluted plot. Go and see it – if you dare.
S4K runs workshops for pupils aged seven to 11 years and 11 to 14 years, where actors come into schools and get up to 40 kids to act out the play, de-mystifying Shakespeare and encouraging enthusiasm for further Shakespeare study. Choose from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo & Juliet, The Tempest or Twelfth Night. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for details.