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Scooby Doo outfits, camp transvestite witches and slapstick can be a distraction in this new production

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»The New London Company commendably tries to make this Macbeth fresh and fun for the contemporary crowd at Kentish Town’s Lion and Unicorn. With roughly an hour each side of the interval, the action’s delivered at a frenetic pace.

Ben Kavanagh’s Macbeth is a fairly ordinary bloke. He lacks presence, and I guess you could say comes across weak physically as well as morally, which is in keeping with the text. Lady Macbeth ridicules him, for example, for not being man enough for the murderous job in hand.

But right from the start, this production tries to find and emphasize funny elements that aren’t necessarily there in this dark, bloody tragedy. Others may disagree, but too often slapstick scenes in this re-interpretation of Shakespeare’s Scottish play were a bit much. The tone felt wrong at key moments, making Macbeth less gripping than it actually is.

Comedic props like a Scream mask and Spiderman and Scooby Doo outfits were a distraction from the thrust of the drama, making it harder to follow. The fast pace similarly meant the actors sometimes hurried their lines, which were hard to make out.

In the case of the famous witches, Banquo’s reference to bearded women is taken to its comic extreme by portraying them as camp, heavily made-up bearded transvestites. Fun, I agree, but the weird sisters lost much of their scary power by becoming so laughable. One even ad libs “ooh, whoopsy-daisy!” as she giggles and skips off stage.

Likewise, Lady Macbeth’s chilling “unsex me here” soliloquy – in which she begs evil spirits to fill her with “direst cruelty” – seemed more like another comic interlude than terrifying pivotal plot moment. Natasha McClure plays her as posh and slightly dippy. After this speech she exited the stage clumsily picking up her bags, sock in mouth – played for laughs, to which many in the audience duly responded.

Full marks for effort and likeability, but this version lacks weight and depth.

* Macbeth is at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre in Gaisford Street, NW5, until July 8, 2012.

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