Garrick Theatre, London Until Fri 1hr 40mins
It has been a bad year for mainstream productions of Macbeth. The National Theatre fielded Rory Kinnear among a lot of shredded bin-liners to cries of rubbish. The Royal Shakespeare Company sported Christopher Eccleston, who gave us a grimacing Thane of Glums. Now there are signs of renewed hope for the Scottish Play featuring some careers in the making.
This lively, National Youth Theatre production is a version by playwright Moira Buffini. She’s edited the play down to 100 minutes flat. It performs matinees only, largely to noisy school kids.
Natasha Nixon’s production is billed as ‘gender-fluid’, as if that were something new – these days it’s the tedious norm. Macbeth is female, and married to a woman. King Duncan is now Queen Duncan. Two of the witches are chaps, one in a tutu.
Aidan Cheng (above) as one of the three witches, two of which are male in this ‘gender-fluid’ adaptation of the Shakespeare play
Despite the gratuitous gender reassignment, the story has real gravitational pull. Olivia Dowd’s slender, tormented Macbeth strikes up a genuine intimacy with her partner in crime – Isabel Adomakoh Young as a fine, strong-voiced Lady M. Their homicidal frenzy feels real, just as Oseloka Obi’s manly Macduff oozes grief-torn credibility in the (brutally cut) England scene.
The budget minimalism is refreshing. There’s not a drop of blood or even any weapons yet the physical violence is a total success – neck-snapping stuff with horrible crunching noises, part of a startling soundscape by Max Pappenheim.
Freed from the curse of flashier versions, this sucks you into a gratifying vortex of evil, projected by a young ensemble that lets Shakespeare work through them. It looks daft but it feels fresh.
Seussical The Musical Southwark Playhouse Until Dec 29
This musical, which awkwardly jams together a few of Dr Seuss’s yarns into something resembling a narrative arc, debuted on Broadway in 2000.
It feels old-fashioned: an extremely cheesy and clichéd piece about being true to yourself, bearing little resemblance to Dr Seuss’s singular, wayward imagination. Surprising, given that another surreal inventor – Eric Idle – co-conceived it alongside Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty.
The cast are lively, but this overly cheesy production bears little resemblance to Dr Seuss’ wayward imagination. Above: Marc Pickering as The Cat In The Hat and Anna Barnes as JoJo
As even Dr Seuss’s trademark tongue-twisting rhymes are mostly ditched in favour of sexy or slushy show tunes, it’s hard to work out who this is for: young audience members are unlikely to feel transported into their favourite picture books, while older musical fans will surely yearn for a sharper, fresher take (as seen in The Old Vic’s The Lorax).
Still, it looks the part, with a candy-striped set and costumes cartoonishly nodding to exotic animals: an elephant in a grey cardigan, birds in marabou-trimmed dresses.
The cast snap and pop in James Tobias’s production, with Marc Pickering playing the Cat In The Hat as a kind of camply louche MC, and Anna Barnes making a notable debut as the perky, over-imaginative JoJo.
But overall, I’m afraid it left me feeling like rather a Grinch.
Heart of Darkness Birmingham Rep Touring from Mar 5 2hrs
Leeds-based Imitating The Dog company has revamped Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella. The trip from the Thames to Africa is here reversed. Our hero – Marlow – is a black female private investigator (Keicha Greenidge). The river journey to find the mysterious Kurtz is now a road trip into a burned out post-apocalyptic Britain.
This flawed but fascinating performance is supported by a sharp cast and fabulous music. Above: Laura Atherton and Morven Macbeth
Actors work beneath screens that project them, as if in a living graphic novel. There are clips from Apocalypse Now and an interview with director Francis Ford Coppola. Andrew Quick and Pete Brooks’s script debates how racist and colonialist Conrad’s book is, inviting the question ‘Why stage it?’
If the actors (including Laura Atherton and Morven Macbeth) look a bit lost amid the digital technology, so are we. Still, this tense, bleak trip through the ashes of British civilisation is compelling. The cast is sharp and the music, from The Doors to the Congolese sound of Missa Luba, is fabulous. Flawed but fascinating.
White Teeth Kiln Theatre, London Until Dec 22 2hrs 30mins
The 2000 novel White Teeth was a stonking success for author Zadie Smith, and this stage adaptation by Stephen Sharkey is set virtually on the theatre’s doorstep in Kilburn.
The multicultural story – with a busy cast of 14 – tracks the fortunes of two local families over the last quarter of the 20th century.
London’s modern identity and its colonial roots are the themes here. Paul Englishby supplies pastiche songs, and Indhu Rubasingham’s larky staging rams an epic story into a single evening.
More bitty than fluid, it’s not as compelling as Smith’s rattling book.
Tartuffe Swan Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon Until Feb 23 2hrs 30mins
Molière’s comic assault on religious hypocrisy is here relocated from 17th-century France to a modern-day Birmingham family of well-to-do British Pakistanis.
In this version, by Anil Gupta and Richard Pinto, Tartuffe is played by Asif Khan as the furtive, holy creep who has inveigled himself into the household of a businessman (Simon Nagra, above with Khan) who’s in love with his Norwegian spruce decking. Tartuffe has this worthy fool around his finger – plus access to his bank account – much to the disgust of the family.
There’s an expanded role for the help (Michelle Bonnard, very funny as a Bosnian cleaner) in a production that features Sarah Sayeed’s live music with sitar and beatbox and deafening blasts of Brummies Black Sabbath.
Iqbal Khan’s production is not subtle but it works, and the play comes with a proper sense of danger. It’s a show that lends a really fresh sense of comic attack to this great satire on false piety.