Review: Macbeth, Shakespeare’s Globe

“Gentle my lord, sleek o’er your rugged looks; be bright and jovial among your guests to-night “

Opening the 2010 Kings and Rogues season at Shakespeare’s Globe on the South Bank is Lucy Bailey’s production of Macbeth. Fans of the Scottish play are being well-served this year: Cheek By Jowl may now have left the Barbican but you can catch them again in Brighton in May, the Open Air Theatre will be running a re-imagined for kids version in July or you can witness this decidedly less family-friendly production in the Globe.

Katrina Lindsay’s design has clearly taken the circular shape of the theatre into consideration and used the circles of hell in Dante’s Inferno as the main inspiration. The Yard is mostly covered with a canopy, with holes for the groundlings to poke their heads through, representing the frozen sinners trapped in the underworld, and it is also populated with the occasional bloodsoaked writhing tortured soul popping up. I can’t comment on how comfortable or otherwise it was, but there’s plenty of room outside of the canopy if you’re not too sure about it: it did look fun though. The weird sisters therefore are the guardians of this final Hell and flow in and out of there onto the stage, trying to drag as many people down with them.

And lordy don’t they get a lot of bodies. This is a production very much attuned to and unafraid of just how much death is contained within Shakespeare’s text: I don’t think I’ve ever seen Macduff’s family dispatched so brutally, both Duncan’s and Lady Macbeth’s bodies are paraded onstage, it’s all very bloody and gruesome and huge amounts of fun.

Casting the central couple a bit younger than one might have expected in the shape of hot things Elliot Cowan and Laura Rogers actually works surprisingly well. Their’s is a passionate, impetuous relationship, indeed the first time we see them together, they literally rip the clothes off each other and whilst a small thing, it cleverly roots their marriage as something real. Cowan’s “Tomorrow, and tomorrow…” was particularly heartbreaking as a result of this and throughout the play he did extremely well in resolving my doubts about whether I could deal with a sexy Macbeth (and by God is he hot, if looking evermore like Heath Ledger!). Laura Rogers also does well as a flirtatious Lady Macbeth, able to use her feminine wiles to win over most anyone. And the sense of limitless ambition fits quite neatly with a younger couple, not yet fully cognisant of the dangers of the reckless pursuit of power.

Elsewhere Christian Bradley’s Banquo impressed, especially with a great entrance into the feast and I just loved the weird sisters, Simone Kirby, Karen Anderson and Janet Fullerlove: they look like a twisted set of Russian dolls with their different heights and possessed of a palpable sense of malevolence in their meddling, never far from the stage or the action.

Costumes were nice enough, all blacks and gunmetal greys with just the weird sisters’ crimson outfits adding a splash of colour to proceedings. There’s the usual good use of music, sackbuts, didgeridoos and multiple bagpipes creating a discordant tense atmosphere, but I also liked the use of singing, especially in creating the sense of genuine camaraderie between the soldiers, but also in a early devotional chant with Duncan. But it is the rest of the staging which I found most effective. Chains and hanging baskets of fire circle round and the back of the stage is draped in billowing black satin with a black net curtain also sometimes circling the stage, echoing the influences of Dante. The curtain sometimes serves as a room divider, sometime as a veil between this world and the underworld of the Yard, either way it is clear that whilst this may be Scotland, it’s really just another circle of hell.

The only weakness for me is in the sagging of the pace during the third quarter of the play, as I’ve never been a fan of Malcolm and Macduff’s extended scene and the performances here did little to change my mind. This was a second preview, so I would imagine that the whole half will become tighter, but I fear I will never really ‘get’ that scene or see the need for its length. Otherwise, this is a highly entertaining, if blood-soaked production which augurs well for the season ahead, and not just because Mr Cowan whips his shirt off, honest!

Running time: 2 hours 50 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £3.50
Note: as they warn you “this is a gruesome production of a brutal play”!

6 Replies to “Review: Macbeth, Shakespeare’s Globe”

  1. I found the canopy not too uncomfortable at all. There's enough give for you to be able to redistribute your weight as the evening goes on, and it was ever so nice to have the little extra warmth offered on a chilly evening such as last Friday!

    Agreed on all comments on Cowan; he's a lot like a sexy manly (lively) Heath Ledger, and I'm glad to hear someone else sees it too! (Let's be fair – it is totally worth seeing just for Cowan's most excellent shirtless scenes. Luckily, said scenes are tethered to an excellent production as well! XD) Also agreed on the Witches; did you notice they were wearing tattered and torn Steward tunics as part of their costume, thus adding further to the idea that the Globe is Hell and they're in charge? :3

    Also agreed that the only real downfall is pacing. It's the sort of thing I feel bad bringing up, because it will surely resolve itself as the cast continue performing in front of audiences, but knowing that it will inevitably tighten up didn't stop it feeling a little draggy on occasion.

    Nice review! 😉

  2. (I should probably point out that a few Facebook users have commented on the canopy being uncomfortable for them, but as a veteran Globe-visitor, I'm fairly firm in my view that it's no less comfortable than being a standard canopy-free groundling. Also helps keep taller audience members tethered in one place, instead of them being free to parade back and forth in front of you. I advise people with long hair to go for a reasonably high ponytail, and avoid wearing clothing with collars unless you want to feel a little like a dog in a lampshade, trying desperately to get the things around your neck to feel a little less alien and failing dismally. XD)

  3. On the one hand pacing can be tightened up for sure, but for me, that third quarter is just deadly! Even in the Cheek by Jowl version which was two hours without interval, my eyes started to droop as soon as Malcolm and Macduff started talking.

    Thanks for your comments though. I love the tidbits about the witches' costumes! I bet you were as disappointed as I was with Lady M's dresses though…!

  4. Fleance stands on the throne, Macbeth playfully puts the crown on his head, The boy forgets to return it and Macbeth calls him back and jokingly takes it from him, Nice touches by the director, I thought!

  5. Yes, programmes are lovely. I hope all the ones this year are similiar then I will collect a set.

    And I thought it was full of those nice little touches, something not really commented on in the press reviews I felt.

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