HMP MACBETH Intermission, St Saviour’s SW3

MURDER , MURK  AND MISSION 
In a church tucked decorously behind Harrods, three voodoo-punk bitch-witches in ragged prison sweatsuits shriek and cackle in an ecstasy of malice;  cell doors bang in vicious sympathy,  and a sensual, tousled Lady Macbeth calls on spirits to unsex her,  interrupted by shouts from the next cell “I’m trying to sleep, you flipping psychopath!”.  Two languages meld seamlessly:  when her illicit prison-officer lover  Macbeth quails at the thought of bumping off the Governor,  averring that he dares do all that may become a man, he who dares do more is none,   his inmate mistress slaps him robustly round the head with “You pussy!”.    As for her scornful “We fail?” –   a line which echoes down four centuries of Lady Macbeths –  he meets that with a dive back into modernity and the prison setting,   muttering resentfully “Well, there’s a possibility –  given that you didn’t get away with your last crime”.

Thus we’re allowed to laugh from time to time.   For this is another of Intermission’s rousing, but not irreverent,  Shakespeare adaptations.,  written by the extraordinary Darren Raymond and directed by Fabian Spencer.  Both men, many years ago as real prison inmates,  had the luck to encounter Bruce Wall’s London Shakespeare Workout and fall in love with the power of it.   Now Raymond is artistic director of Intermission Youth Theatre,  creating productions with young people deemed – or already – at risk of running off the tracks.   It was founded by actors-cum-missioners (Into-Mission, geddit?)  the Rev Rob Gillion and his wife Janine (she, with an air of Teresa May bout her,  beautifully  plays the assasinated prison governor Ms Duncan).   Without government support,  this incogruous outfit probably does more for disaffected youth than many conventional ones.  It has sent kids on to RADA, the Brit school, university,  teaching and TV.
Leading a number of fine performances,  Kwame Reed as Officer Macbeth makes a thoughtful journey from dutiful ambitious officer promoted after quelling a riot caused by Deputy Governor Cawdor,  to panicking psychopath.   The Three Bitches are tremendous,  and Esther Odejimi (astonishingly, it’s her first ever performance)  is memorable:  a sexy, furious, utterly confident Lady Macbeth right through to her final dissolution, crying “Hell is murky”, to cries of “slut” from behind the cell walls.
A lot of credit goes to Raymond himself, whose years of workshopping and “sampling” Shakespere texts enable the young cast to take confident ownership, shifting from modern vernacular with ease and conviction.  Important soliloquies like “She should have died hereafter” are intact,  high emotion often leading with beautiful logic straight from prison jargon to the old pentameter.  As for the plot, it hangs artfully between dystopian fantasy (a women’s prison as a self-contained kingdom), gritty realism and the original.   I wondered how he would handle the murder of the Macduffs  and the curse of Dunsinane, but he does it elegantly, and even gets round the Birnam Wood problem.

box office   http://www.iyt.org.uk       Thur-Sat till    23 Nov

rating :  four        4 Meece Rating

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