Twist Theatre Company’s R’n’B infused musical adaptation of the infamous Scottish history play, billed as Shakespeare meets Empire, is a messy but still engaging and enjoyable take on the classic tragedy. Shifting the action from medieval Scotland to a music company in London, the play charts the rise and fall of “King” Records, headed by the ambitious and Gregarious C.E.O. Duncan, whose right hand man (Macbeth) is visited by three mysterious wyrd sisters who tell him he is destined to become the new C.E.O.

In the scenes where the company ditches the text completely and rely on their own song lyrics, the story finally feels like it fits

Despite the setting change, the plot is very faithful to its source material - if not a bit too much. The piece is neither a complete adaptation to a modern setting or merely the original text with songs added in; instead it is a strange hybrid where the dialogue shifts without any real rhythm or reason between the original Shakespearean language and poetry, to modern speech and rap. This choice is confusing as it means the setting feels incomplete and prevents the piece from truly gaining its own unique voice. This is not helped by a messy first half that struggles to establish all of the characters and their relationships without it coming off as forced or contrived, and initially I was worried the show wouldn’t be able to live up to its premise and potential.

Luckily the second half is able to find firmer feet and establish itself as a distinct work in its own right. It is here the musical capabilities of the company really shine through, as the cast deliver stellar vocal performances with slick choreography, despite the small space they are working with. It is in these sections the show really comes to life, as the feelings and emotions of the characters are expressed in their rawest form. So, too, the atmosphere of the show - the glitz and glamour of the music industry, along with the grime and greed underneath it - is best expressed here.

In the scenes where the company ditches the text completely and rely on their own song lyrics, the story finally feels like it fits. The company would have been much better off simply removing any reliance on the original language altogether and reworking the play completely.

As it is, this Macbeth is an impressive and interesting take on the original play. but uses the text as a crutch, never quite able to stand on its own feet or immerse itself fully in its own setting, which means it never becomes truly as engaging or rousing as it really could be. 

Reviews by Joseph McAulay

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The Blurb

Music. Ambition. Greed. Murder. Shakespeare meets Channel 4’s smash-hit Empire! A musical adaptation of Macbeth with an R'n'B, grime and afrobeat vibe set within the British music industry. Performed and created by young Hackney artists. Director Susie McKenna (Hackney Empire’s Creative Director), Musical Director Renell Shaw (Rudimental), Choreographer Leroy Dos Santos (Flawless), Assistant Director Patrick Miller (Byker Grove). Supported by Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation, The Monument Trust part of Connecting Young Hackney.