Home » London Theatre Reviews » Macbeth, a gender-fluid version abridged by Moira Buffini

Macbeth, a gender-fluid version abridged by Moira Buffini

Alice Vilanculo and Christopher Williams in NYT's - Macbeth at the Garrick Theatre. Credit The Other Richard.
Alice Vilanculo and Christopher Williams in NYT’s – Macbeth at the Garrick Theatre. Credit The Other Richard.

The National Youth Theatre have been given the opportunity to perform in the wonderful Garrick Theatre (in the afternoons) and boy do they grasp the moment with both hands. This production of Macbeth is engaging, energetic and enthralling. Moira Buffini’s abridgment manages to retain the heart of the tragedy within one hour forty-five minutes, no interval. Director Natasha Nixon has a very clear idea of what she wants to bring out. She describes the production as gender fluid with Macbeth played by a woman. The result is a cogent, compact and compelling representation of Macbeth from the cast, crew and creatives of the unmatched National Youth Theatre.

The originality of Natasha Nixon’s conception is apparent from the get-go. The witches are visually stunning. The first witch (Aidan Cheng, wonderful) wearing Geisha clogs, a skirt, a bare torso and the most grotesque smile. The second witch (Jeffrey Sangalang) resembled a hideous ogre with a hunched back and a crab-like motion across the stage. The third witch (Simran Hunjun) enveloped from neck to toe in a red rectangular body bag with only her head and jet black hair on show resembled a playing card from Alice in Wonderland. All three witches are compelling but Aidan Cheng is superb. His movements in his clogs are at once comical and simultaneously menacing and his smile is held for so long that it becomes sinister and indeed terrifying. He is undoubtedly the most memorable witch I have ever seen.

As to be expected the National Youth Theatre as a company is high-energy and full of commitment. But what impressed me much more was the joy with which they went about their work. They were obviously revelling in the thrill of being on stage. Equally impressive was the clarity with which every word was spoken. The actors not only knew their lines but understood the meanings of every syllable. Marilyn Nnadebe’s Duncan exemplified this beautifully. She dominated the stage and I can say of her as she says of the bleeding Captain (Fred Hughes-Stanton ) “so well thy words become thee…”

The relationship between Lady Macbeth (Isabel Adomakoh Young) and Macbeth (Olivia Dowd, wonderful) is the key one. Isabel is coldly convincing in her great soliloquy in which she chillingly desires to be unsexed “…and fill me, from crown to the toe, top-full of direst cruelty.” And she reaches even deeper into the depths of the diabolical as she cajoles and chides Macbeth into the act of assassination. “O, never shall sun that morrow see!”

Olivia Dowd is tremendous. She gets it. She gets inside Macbeth and brings out the double-sided conflicted complexity. She is powerfully convincing as both ambitious amoral assassin (“vaulting ambition”) and the remorseful, regretful murderer (“… I am cabin’d, cribb’d, confin’d, bound in to saucy doubts and fears…”). Her delivery of the final soliloquy was both haunting and profoundly moving “…to-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow, creeps in this pretty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time … it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” This brilliant production brings Macbeth alive and signifies everything it touches.

4 stars

Review by John O’Brien

The National Youth Theatre present a brand new gender fluid adaptation of Shakespeare’s sinister tale of greed, betrayal and revenge by NYT Alumna Moira Buffini (wonder.land, Handbagged).

The gender-fluid production stars two female leads, with the role of Macbeth played by Olivia Dowd and the role of Lady Macbeth by Isabel Adomakoh Young. Macbeth is the third and final production in the National Youth Theatre’s 2018 West End REP season, following a world premiere of Victoria’s Knickers and Evan Placey’s critically-acclaimed Consensual.

Garrick Theatre
By William Shakespeare
Abridged by Moira Buffini
Directed by Natasha Nixon


  • John OBrien

    JOHN O’BRIEN born in London in 1960 is a born and bred Londoner. His mother was an illiterate Irish traveller. His early years were spent in Ladbroke Grove. He was born at number 40 Lancaster Road. In 1967 the family was rehoused in Hackney. He attended Brooke House School for Boys in Clapton, - as did Lord Sugar. He became head boy and was the first person in his family to make it to university, gaining a place at Goldsmiths College in 1978. He took a degree in Sociology and a PGCE . From 1982 until 1993 he taught at schools in Hackney and Richmond. In 1984-85 he attended Bristol University where he gained a Diploma in Social Administration. From 1985 until 1989 he studied part-time in the evenings for a degree in English Literature at Birkbeck College. He stayed on at Birkbeck from 1990-1992 to study for an MA in Modern English Literature. He left teaching in 1993 and has worked as a tutor, researcher, writer and tour guide. He leads bespoke guided tours on London’s history, art , architecture and culture. He has attended numerous courses at Oxford University - Exeter College, Rewley House & Kellogg College. In London, he attends courses at Gresham College, The National Gallery, The British Museum, The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, The British Academy and The Royal Society. Read the latest London theatre reviews by all reviewers.

    View all posts
Scroll to Top