Macbeth, Globe Theatre, London, April 2010

This new production by Lucy Bailey presents a Dante-like vision of hell. A large black sheet covers most of the standing room in the pit, with slits for audience members to stick their heads through so they can see the stage, and at times writhing male torsos smeared with blood emerge through some of the slits. The witches in their dark red nun-like robes are gatekeepers of hell — tall, medium and very short, they occasionally skulk around the stage ready to draw the characters to their eternal doom. In the scene where they conjure up three spirits, they lick the bloody fingers of one, and the second spirit is a bloodily-red rag doll to which one witch gives birth.

Macbeth and three witches, photos by Ellie Kurttz

The director does not shy away from the grotesque, and when Macduff’s wife and children are murdered we see the deed in all its gore, his son being brutally slashed in the face and later killed. These and other bloody details are alleviated by the antics of the porter in Macbeth’s castle, played by Frank Scantori. He urinates in a bucket, ambles around like a small bear, throws the contents of the bucket over the audience in the pit, and when he’s knocked over, this short and gloriously fat man is stuck on his back like a beetle. It’s amusing, but what of the psychological drama of Macbeth and his wife, played by Elliot Cowan and Laura Rogers?

Elliot Cowan as Macbeth

A perennial question is whether Macbeth and his wife are addicted to murder, or are simply ambitious clowns swimming in insecurity. The director’s contribution is to portray the two of them as a young couple full of sexual energy and ambition. Laura Rogers as Lady Macbeth has been deliberately cast as an attractive, sexy, modern-looking young woman, ready for a roll in the hay with her virile husband. A pussycat it seems, yet calm and controlled in determining the murder of King Duncan, and cleaning up the bloody mess afterwards. She has done this by steeling herself to the deed, yet cannot cope with her own later reactions. Elliot Cowan portrays an attractive Macbeth, metaphorically in clothing several sizes too large for him.

This production spoke to me about the brutal shrewdness of many warlords and leaders today in cultures dominated by clans, like early medieval Scotland. There are nonetheless men of courage and nobility, like Banquo, well portrayed by Christian Bradley showing excellent gravitas and a sense of honour. But I’m afraid I found some of the acting a little uneven. Elliot Cowan as Macbeth had good stage presence but his voice was somewhat couvré at times, and although James McArdle as Malcolm spoke with great clarity, the lack of spontaneity in his speeches rendered them dull. Julius D’Silva created a powerful presence as the Scottish thane, Ross, and since this was only the second performance it may be that some of the other acting will settle down in later performances.

Overall the production is a strong one, though I found it too gory for my taste. Many people will doubtless like the effect of Banquo’s ghost appearing from the underworld through a huge platter of food, reaching out a bloody arm to grip Macbeth’s hand. The horror of the moment was effective, but I prefer less gore and a more abstract realisation of this tightly written play.

Performances continue until June 27 — for more details click here.

7 Responses to “Macbeth, Globe Theatre, London, April 2010”

  1. Adam says:

    How long was the production? I will be in London end of May and have tickets to a 19:30 performance. Was just wondering what time to expect it to end.

  2. Gazman says:

    I saw this yesterday and was very disappointed. And it wasn’t the gore. I particularly liked the arrival of Banquo at the feast. What disappointed me was Lady Macbeth. I thought she was terrible. I didn’t believe her at all. The actress did not convey anything to me. A shame for such a brilliant role to be, basically, ruined.

    I thought the direction was pretty mediocre as well and the cast would do well to include everyone in the audience rather than just the people out front.

    I agree with your comments on the Porter. Given it’s the one joke in Macbeth, I thought it was very, very effective and extremely funny.

    And you are SO right about Malcolm. Ho hum. Very clear, very dull.

  3. Rogerthecyclist says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this. It is the most violent Macbeth I have seen, and gained from that, because the play is littered with bodies, and you can’t have bodies without having blood. It brings home what happens when you have a coup, or a revolution. The porter provided great light relief, and made the play. You can’t help looking at him and wondering what he is going to do next.

    Lady Macbeth? The acting is first rate, the difficulty lies in the plot. Shakespeare makes a big leap between her being the driving force in the murder of the king and then her suicide off stage. How convenient. But then Shakespeare had a lot of other things happening on the stage at the time so you can’t blame him.

    The great advantage of this Macbeth is that if you are standing with the £5 tickets you get covered up to the neck by the black sheet imarking the border with hell. This keeps you warm – normally it gets pretty cold in the Globe once the sun goes down. And it is fun watching people panic as a gory actor bursts out of a slit in the sheeting to roll in death agonies just inches from them.

  4. Lynn says:

    I saw this opening night and was extremely disappointed. Some of the worst Shakespeare I have seen. The porter was the only enjoyable element. It wasn’t the gore but the acting that was the problem. I was looking forward to a particularly effective atmospheric staging of Macbeth but at one point when Lady Macbeth walked woodenly and too quickly onto the stage the audience actually snickered. Hard to take any amount of gore seriously after that.

  5. Liz says:

    I’ve never seen such a literal interpretation of the play, nor one quite so bloody. Overall, the effect became almost comical as the corpses piled up. If the script allowed for a murder to take place onstage, it did, with much cracking of the fake blood pellets. If the death happened off stage (Duncan and Lady M for example), the bloody corpse was then dragged onstage in a sheet and displayed to the nervously tittering crowd. All well and good to purvey the rule of the tyrant and the sword, but what about the text? The pace and frenetic energy of the play meant that there was no room for the ghastly equivocation that is the main theme of the play. Before you had time to take a breath, Macbeth was hell-bent on his murderous path, and the desparately sad “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” was rushed out as if it were a mere speculation over plans for the weekend. Not a great reading of the play.

  6. Rosie says:

    I saw it today and absolutely loved it. There were elements of amusement, which to me made sitting on a small piece of wood for 3 hours far more enjoyable. I think saying it’s some of the ‘worst’ Shakespeare is most definitely an exaggeration. In my opinion it’s well worth seeing.

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