sun 23/06/2024

Macbeth, Shakespeare's Globe review - uneven production of intermittent power | reviews, news & interviews

Macbeth, Shakespeare's Globe review - uneven production of intermittent power

Macbeth, Shakespeare's Globe review - uneven production of intermittent power

Matti Houghton shines as a grieving, accusing, frustrated Lady Macbeth

So it was a dagger I saw before me - Max Bennett as MacbethJohan Persson

That Shakespeare speaks to his audiences anew with every production is a cliché, but, like so many such, the glib blandness of the assertion conceals an insistent truth. The Thane of Glamis has had some success in life, gains preferment from those who really should have seen through his shallowness and vaulting ambition – he even says the phrase himself – and achieves power without really knowing what to do with it.

The crown not only justifies the means of his ascension up the slippery pole, but its preservation becomes the sole object of his every deed. History does not record if Macbeth had bizarre hair or a residence in Westminster or Washington.

Violence was never far from the alleys and pubs around The Globe in Tudor times – ask the murdered Christopher Marlowe, a ghost at some of The King’s Men’s performances, I’d warrant. What might today be a thriller of political intrigue and shifting alliances was, in the early 17th century, a passionate, testosterone-filled action adventure. Shakespeare wisely set the events north of the border to hammer home the message that royal accessions, if contested, will be bloody – a point with which James VI of Scotland, recently invested as James I of England and Ireland, would have approved. The Bard always knew how to pander to his monarch but was far too clever to miss out on the opportunity to smuggle deeper truths about human nature into a text sure to get a nod of approval from the Master of the Revels – the censor to you and me. Many in his audience knew it too and loved him for it – we still do today.

Director Abigail Graham (promoted to the Globe stage after her The Merchant of Venice last year in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse) gives us three male Weird Sisters, the witches masked as carrion crows, their full hazmat suits foreshadowing the poison their prophecies will unleash. Duncan (Tamzin Griffin) becomes a queen rather than king, her sidekick Ross (Gabby Wong) a female Thane, the gender-flipping – somewhat inevitable given the imbalance in male and female roles in Shakespeare – less intrusive than in 2022's disastrous Julius Caesar, but hearing the lines read in a woman’s register still takes a little getting used to and doesn’t always work. Maybe one wouldn’t notice so much were the approaches to the text more consistent across the cast, but some actors rushed at their speeches, while others found the rhythms and poetry. With language so critical in this play, it felt at times like one was hearing two productions performed in rooms either side of a corridor.

Max Bennett gives us a (literally) bewitched Macbeth who becomes intoxicated with the prospect of seizing power. Given what conmen call a convincer with his elevation to Thane of Cawdor, he never doubts the witches’ word again. The transition from warlord high on his own supply after seeing off the rebellion to his plotting of a route to the crown, to his backing out of the regicide plot, to his stiffening in sinew by his wife, to psychotic murderous madness comes very quickly in this somewhat cut version. Bennett is whisked away so swiftly from his dream of the dagger that we can’t really feel his anxiety growing before it is refuted.

The strength of this production comes through in Matti Houghton’s Lady Macbeth. It is strongly suggested that the couple have lost a child and that there is consequent resentment on her part that her husband has not provided her with another. As a result, her imploring to the heavens to “unsex” her mind and assume the courage Macbeth himself should be demonstrating becomes a personal plea too: the impossibility of become pregnant without his help driving her frustration, displacing it into a lust for power. The repeated accusation that he should, as the young people say, “grow a pair”, carries an additional sting as a pointed admonition to her failing husband.

In support, Calum Callaghan has a lot of fun with the groundlings as the comical porter, Ben Caplan finds a sinister efficiency as the Doctor and Ferdy Roberts a terrifying amorality as the court apparatchik Seyton (each pictured above as The Witches with Max Bennett). Fode Simbo’s Banquo captures his too late realisation that his erstwhile comrade-in-arms is murdering his way to the top with ever-more quizzical looks and Aaron Anthony conveys the full horror of such consequences in his lament of for all his "pretty ones" – children, the vectors of power’s smooth transition, are not spared at any point.

In keeping with the Globe ethos, we don’t see Birnam Wood advancing on Dunsinane (brilliantly done in Joel Coen’s recent film) and the climactic fight sees Macbeth despatched swiftly – although he is such a true believer in the prophecy by that point that Macduff’s confirmation that he was not of woman born (his mother sacrificed and already dead from the C-section birth) may have sealed his fate in his own mind. Though the excellent chorus adds an ethereal quality with their singing, that lack of spectacle does feel a little like shortchanging on the two set pieces that underpin the work’s key themes of the supernatural’s interventions in the real world and Macbeth’s misinterpreting and over-reliance on what turns out to be fake news from bad actors.

Which brings us back to the contemporary relevance. Not only do we hear so much of the English language being invented in the text, but we also see human weakness dissected, the precise key turning the lock of Macbeth’s mind to release the psychosis. It’s a reminder that such demons live inside all our heads, even those that wear a crown: not just a reminder then, but a warning too.  

The repeated accusation that Macbeth should, as the young people say, “grow a pair”, carries an additional sting


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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