Macbeth, Globe Theatre, London, April 2010Posted on 25 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.
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?
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.