AUDITIONS have got to be every actor's nightmare. Not even the most egocentric prima donnas could relish the thought of standing in front of the full-length mirrors at the Fringe Club rehearsal studio. For most, the idea of delivering 17th century Elizabethan verse probably gets top marks for boredom appeal, but the temptation of escaping to a world of witches, apparitions and brutal sword fights proved irresistible to 26 hopeful youngsters. They had succumbed to the challenge of Shakespeare in the sweltering heat of a Saturday afternoon. Macbeth, perhaps the greatest Shakespearean tragedy, will be staged at the Fringe Club from May 25 to 28. Produced by the Hong Kong Youth Arts Festival and jointly directed by Lottie Ross and Jeremy Hardingham, it may just succeed in redressing some of the stereotypical images Shakespeare undeservedly has. ''We are really looking for a cast that would span as wide an age group as possible,'' said Ms Ross, the actress/director at the helm of the $15,OOO effort. ''The challenge of working with people aged from six to 25 is that you have this huge melting potof ideas.'' Ideas were certainly experimented with at the first round of auditions, which attracted 26 bright hopefuls, some of whom had never taken the stage, let alone heard of Macbeth. Jeremy Hardingham, the precocious 19-year-old who directed Stephen Berkoff's West at the Fringe Festival, ran the session not so much as summer school, but a dramatic workshop. ''We don't just want a flat audition, but for people to improvise and start working together at themes within the play,'' he said. The result was total creative mayhem as youngsters mimed, improvised lines and incorporated their own personalities in the given scenarios. Split into groups of five or six, the essence of each group's performance was unique. Some groups played up the emotional and physical aspects of the creatures through dance movements, while others went for improvised dialogue and witty modern-day repartee. Claire Radford, 16, from the drama group Sitcom of the South Island School, played one of the witches. Auditioning, she said, was fun because, ''I like to make a fool of myself. I played Dracula's mother in a production of Dracula Spectacular and she waskind of batty.'' Most were just excited to be there, like 20-year-old Mimi Cheung, a Chinese-Irish psychology student who had grabbed time off her lunch-break to attend the session. ''I like art in a big way and I don't mind what I do, as long as I get involved in the production in some way,'' she said. Macbeth, probably one of the most complex characters Shakespeare ever invented, could end up being played by one of the two older boys who auditioned at the first session. ''It's really strange because you hardly find guys auditioning for plays here,'' said Rob Tinworth who toured Germany with Sitcom's production of Dignity. ''I really enjoy the escapism but the auditions can be like a doctor's waiting room.'' Working with a young cast is nothing new to Ms Ross, who looks forward to the challenge of fusing a partnership between young, fresh faces, and the tradition language of Shakespeare. A cast of 12 to 13 will be shortlisted, with most secondary characters taking on dual roles. Ms Ross intends to create a stage spread with garden soil to give the play a rich, earthy atmosphere. ''There is a tendency in Hong Kong for selfish acting,'' she concluded. '' What I would like to see is a production of young, exciting faces that would cross all barriers of culture, race and gender.''