Review – Macbeth, Shakespeare’s Globe

I’ve never really been one for the Globe.  It always struck me as something vaguely embarrassing, like taking a photo next to a Guardsman or visiting the London Dungeon or watching Tower Bridge go up and down with your camcorder – fine for American tourists, but not the sort of thing that a right thinking London theatregoer should really concern themselves with.

My vision of the typical scene at the Globe consisted of the following, all of which would be set in the yard of an inn:

LAMDA Graduate: God’s body! the turkeys in my pannier *GRABS CROTCH* are quite starved. What, ostler!

RADA Graduate: I pray thee lend me thy lantern *GRABS CROTCH*, to see my gelding *GRABS CROTCH* in the stable *POINTS AT WOMAN’S CROTCH*.  Sirrah, what time do you mean to come to London?

LAMDA Graduate: Time enough to go to bed with a candle *GRABS CROTCH*, I warrant.

Fat RADA Graduate: The rascal hath removed my horse, and tied him I know not where. If I travel but four foot by the squier further afoot, I shall break my wind. *FARTS LOUDLY AT THE AUDIENCE*

All of which would, of course, be accompanied by some prat in chain mail playing an authentic 16th century lute and finished off with a curtain call based on some naff dance that may or may not have been popular in Jacobean times.

As it turns out, the Globe actually does have a nice line in proper plays for grown ups who aren’t wearing I HEART London hoodies. This performance of Macbeth, directed by the ever competent Lucy Bailey, ranks as one of the best I’ve seen, even edging out favourites Cheek by Jowl who presented the same play recently at the Barbican in a way that could not have been more different.

The performances here are solid, if not exceptional. Elliot Cowan in the lead is strong and firm, as well as convincingly and pleasingly bonkers at the end. Laura Rogers managed to escape the typical Sans Taste wrath when faced with a Lady Macbeth; her progression from ambitious to murderous to mental feels intelligent, managed and – crucially and surprisingly – not in the least boring. Frank Scantori as the porter is superb. Few others stand out and some of the performances felt a little undercooked: I could have coped with a lot more from Keith Dunphy’s Macduff  and Christian Bradley as Banquo didn’t leave a lasting impression for me.

The real strength of the production lies in its design, which is wonderfully managed to produce some great effects. Burying half the audience (Happy Days reference anyone?) up to their necks under black fabric felt like a gimmic at first, but it allowed some superb effects throughout the production. The portrayal of the witches – so often laughable – is here genuinely chilling. The haunted feast scene – again, often quite difficult to believe – is gruesomely evidenced here in a masterstroke of staging. This is a wonderfully intelligent and incredibly well thought out production in terms of both stagecraft and overall performance.

Gruesome / brutal
It is also an incredibly gory and unflinching production. The fake blood has been bought in bulk and there is scarcely a scene that goes by without someone being summarily executed on stage and tossed into a pit or dragged down to hell. The sexual energy between Cowan and Rogers is also palpable, perhaps even somewhat too palpable for a Wednesday matinee full of school trips – at one point even I, a seasoned theatre visitor and man of the world, wasn’t quite sure what he was trying to do to her.

One of the surprising things, given all this gruesome productions of brutal plays, is quite how anaemic the final fight scene is between Macbeth and Macduff. Now, I’m no expert on organising sword fights (well, it was an axe fight really if truth be told) in our modern HSE conscious times, and I am not blind to the need not to decapitate a bunch of theatre fans at a matinee, but it did all feel rather weak and a bit of an anticlimax if truth be told.

This is a great production, showing some superb choices from the director and some incredibly inventive stagecraft from Katrina Lindsay. And there wasn’t a single scene set in an inn. Although the dance at the curtain call was beyond naff.