Review: Everyman Youth’ Macbeth, Cardiff Open Air Theatre Festival, Sophia Gardens

Andy Howells samples a rare presentation of a Shakespeare classic at Cardiff Open Air Theatre Festival.

As darkness descends over Sophia Gardens, the witches move in unison, chanting “Double, double toil and trouble: Fire burn, and cauldron bubble…” No, we haven’t stepped into a creepy ritual, we are in fact midway through Everyman Youth Theatre’s presentation of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the first of two performances at Cardiff Open Air Theatre Festival.

I highlight this moment particularly because this is one of many scenes that will stay in my mind’s eye when I look back to this production. The dictation is clear, the costumes and make-up are eerie, dark and gothic. The young ensemble utilise every inch of their improvised stage setting are giving their all in both appearance and presentation.

Shakespeare’s Tragedy Macbeth is no doubt familiar to many. The piece follows an ambitious Scottish general, who learns from three witches that he is to be King of Scotland.  Encouraged by his wife, Macbeth proceeds to murder the current king to take the throne. Impulsive and tyrannical actions result in further deaths and a bloody civil war ensues.

While Sarah Bawler’s directed presentation is described as “the perfect introduction to teenagers studying the text,” I would go as far as to say that it’s a perfect introduction for anybody yet to discover this Shakespeare work. Personally, I have only witnessed a handful of Shakespeare productions over the years, so this was an education for me in my mid-50s. Is there a better way than to learn something wondrous in theatre than through the passion and energy of youth?

What a joy, to witness sheer professionalism, dedication, and meticulous attention to detail from the ensemble cast who are clearly passionate to be performing Macbeth. Harvey Hewer presents all the power, dominance and manipulation combined with the inner fragility required for the title role. while Ciara McAlpine heads up one of the most dramatic scenes as Hecate as she scolds her minions for the mishandling of the Macbeth situation. The ensemble reacts with screams as spotlights glower the bloodiest red across the stage under the dark night sky.

There are so many outstanding performers across this production that it feels like an injustice not to mention everyone individually, but then it’s the solid teamwork of all concerned, including some of the younger members of the cast, that make Macbeth such a joy to watch. I have rarely seen the passion and concentration that exists here from so many young people.

Far from a tragedy, Macbeth is a resounding triumph for Everyman Youth! Do not miss the second and final presentation of Macbeth on July 23. It deserves to be sold out a second time!

For ticket details visit Cardiff Open Air Theatre Festival’s website.

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