Review: Condensed Shakespeare by the York Theatre Royal Youth Theatre

York Theatre Royal Youth Theatre Macbeth
York Theatre Royal Youth Theatre in Macbeth. Photograph: Anthony Robling
24 Mar 2014 @ 11.51 am
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Review: The Tempest and Macbeth by York Theatre Royal Youth Theatre
Venue: The Studio, York Theatre Royal, March 20

York Theatre Royal Youth Theatre took on an ambitious challenge: to present three of Shakespeare’s most famous plays over three days in new abridged versions.

Each show is roughly an hour long and features an entirely different cast for each play, taken from the ranks of the Youth Theatre. The double bill I saw was a younger group of actors performing The Tempest, followed by Macbeth, with a slightly older age group. They were also performing Julius Caesar.

Entering the Studio at the Theatre Royal was a slightly disconcerting experience for The Tempest, as the cast were already in place, covered in cloaks and swaying, making the intimate setting atmospheric from the off.

We soon experienced the titular Tempest and meet our characters.

Catching the cadence of Shakespeare’s language is something I have seen professional actors with decades of experience struggle with so it was satisfying to see the young cast mostly adapt well to it, especially Jake Telfer as Prospero and Joshua Swales-Heartfield as Caliban.

Some very strong performances and interesting production choices made for an entertaining hour.

I particularly liked the choice of five young ladies in masks as Ariel the vengeful spirit. Having the character played by more than one added an eerie quality and conveyed the menace well, giving a more ghostly feel to the character.

Overall a satisfying take on one of my least favourite Shakespeare plays, although this abridged version felt a touch rushed towards the climax, as Prospero suddenly forgave everyone and off home we went, happy.

Then it was time for Macbeth. The “Scottish play” is already one of Shakespeare’s shortest tragedies and I felt director Paula Clark’s abridgment handled the source material very well.

This slightly older cast was well suited to the material and the set design was excellent, using red sand to convey many of the more complicated stage requirements (blood, boiling cauldrons).

We were introduced to the action via the witches, here inhabiting the space with a fluid, gleeful trio of actresses (Katy Staite, Maddie Drury and Grace Hobson).

Having them remain seated in the audience was an excellent idea.

For me the standout singular performance of the hour was Charlotte Wood as Lady Macbeth, who dealt well with the showiest of roles without going overboard, a restrained performance among the insanity which is the murder and shenanigans of the play. One to watch.

I had a couple of issues with the lighting, not the design, which was intricate and interesting. The timing was a little off, occasionally cutting off the final seconds of a scene or coming back too early, but this is a minor quibble in a show which was well worth its £6 ticket.

A very valiant effort from a company so young, and carried with the confidence of a cast much more experienced. Definitely worth a look.