CAN Young Artists’ new production, What’s Done Is Done, is a modern take on themes in Macbeth – an appropriate choice given Shakespeare’s anniversary this year, and keeping up with the many professional performance companies that have chosen to give their 2016 programmes a Shakespearean flavour.
Devised by the young artist group, scripted by Martin Stannage and directed by Kate Bradnam, the production takes a sensible approach. Rather than attempting to condense Macbeth’s massive, complex plot into an hour-long performance, What’s Done Is Done focusses specifically on one death and its consequences.
Macbeth’s counterpart is studious bookworm Trish, who is bullied by her classmates for being a know-it-all in lessons. Fed up of being picked on, Trish shares a humiliating video of popular girl Rosie, ensuring that everyone sees it in a school assembly. Unable to cope with being victimised, Rosie commits suicide. Trish clearly has some responsibility for Rosie’s death, but in a much more subtle way than a dagger to the chest.
Unlike the tragic anti-hero, Trish openly confesses her guilt rather than committing further crimes, and the conclusion of the play sees her accepting the consequences of her actions by doing community service. The moral message here is a lot clearer than in Shakespeare’s tragedy.
Other influences from Macbeth help to create a creepy atmosphere. Rosie’s ghost appears to Trish in an echo of Banquo, slowly rising up at Trish’s bedroom window and making most of the audience jump. The three witches are realised in the form of crazy cat lady Paula, whose prophecies are ‘messages’ from the spirit world. Although she is a comical character, Paula is followed and mimicked by a trio of sinister masked spirits.
Although these three characters are largely silent, they perform some good passages of movement, particularly in the dramatisation of Rosie’s suicide. Here, the production opts for a less literal and more effective approach than a fall from a height and a blackout. Instead, the actress slowly descends from the raised part of the stage and is encircled by the spirits, donning a mask to become one of their number.
The CYA cast should be commended for their clear performance, maintaining a good pace and believable dynamic. They also work well together as a group throughout.
Jonathan Needham’s percussive soundtrack, played live onstage, proves an inspired choice – it dramatically underscores the action, whether in an emphatic, booming drum beat, or a shimmering cymbal.
Two comical double acts – the play’s only adult character, teacher Mr Moore, with student Freddo, and a ghost-hunting sister/brother pairing – form separate plot strands. Although they are entertaining, it’s not clear what either pair brings to the play in terms of plot.
Overall, this is an impressive and effective start to the CAN Young People’s theatre programme in Manchester and a great contemporary take on Macbeth.