Children’s show review: Is This a Dagger? The Story of Macbeth

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Edinburgh Festival Fringe: Andy Cannon is a man with storytelling in his blood; a performer who can take the trickiest, most complicated of narratives and deliver it to a young audience as if it were a simple nursery rhyme.

Scottish Storytelling Centre (Venue 30)

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But even he has excelled himself with Is This a Dagger? – an hour-long fast-track through Shakespeare’s ‘Scottish play’.

Suitably dressed in a kilt, he arrives on stage and issues a gentle caution. Are we all aware he’s about to tell a gruesome and bloody tale? “Yes!” the audience replies, with some degree of glee, and so he begins.

At first it seems like an impossible task – introducing a young audience to copious characters with bizarre royal titles like ‘Thane’, and imparting an intricate storyline filled with prophetic witches, heirs living in exile and ghostly apparitions. But in actuality, it’s all so easy to follow. Any concepts which come close to complexity are simplified through both words and actions. Cannon takes nothing for granted, everything is explained and yet, inexplicably, it never feels patronising – even for the grown-ups.

The barest of props are put to clever use: a yellow duster and rubber gloves signify Lady Macbeth, desperately trying to clean up the mess. A simple tartan scarf is worn three different ways to indicate Macduff, Banquo and Macbeth himself. Three pairs of plastic sunglasses are used to identify the witches, complete with falsetto voices. And slowly but surely Cannon works his way through the entire play, depicting most of its key characters, and a good time is had by all, with adults and children laughing happily at the same jokes.

Perhaps most interestingly, Cannon disabuses us of the notion that Shakespeare based his play on real events, closing the show with the fascinating real tale of the 11th century King of Scotland.