“Laugh to scorn the power of men”
Who’d’ve thought 2013 would turn out to be the year of the impressive Malcolm? After Alexander Vlahos’ strongly defined interpretation of a fast-maturing young man for the MIF’s Macbeth in the summer, so now Philip Cumbus makes his own successful stab at the character for the Globe’s take on the Scottish Play, making him an unmistakeable stateman from the off even if he hides it well. The production is most notable for marking the directorial debut of that product-of-a-star-dancing Eve Best and a striking one it is too – whereas Lucy Bailey went all-out Dante back in 2010, Best treats it with a much lighter, even comedic, touch.
It’s a bold choice and one that is just so different that in the trickier moments, it was hard to tell whether I felt it was genuinely unsuccessful or rather that it was just so unexpected. Generally speaking, the vein of black comedy that was teased out was stronger than the broader strokes that often appear in Globe comedies, but the sound of so much laughter in the play did feel at odds with its increasingly darkening horizons, the creeping sense of horror never really materialises as the tonal balance of the production makes it hard for the actors to shift modes and carry the audience with them.
Joseph Millson’s introspective Macbeth makes a compelling psychological study as opposed to a convincing man of action, making his quieter moments more effective. And Samantha Spiro, an almost counter-intuitive casting choice here, plays Lady M with a quirky sense of humour to begin with and a wild abandon at the end, yet never really marries the two for me. And throughout the cast, there’s an unevenness which never really let the production settle easily – Finty Williams’ Lady Macduff far outshines Stuart Bowman as her husband, Harry Hepple made much more of an impact as Lennox than Billy Boyd as Banquo, Bette Bourne’s Porter felt like a real missed opportunity to play to that performer’s strengths.
Overall, I was left a little disappointed by this Macbeth, which crucially lacks any real sense of atmosphere when Olly Fox’s emphatic music isn’t playing. I suspect this is partly due to the memories of Branagh, partly due to the extraordinarily good Dream I saw just last week, but also due to the palpable sense of a director still finding their feet. The programme talks of Best’s initial desire to direct a comedy and one can’t help but wonder if that might not have been better all round, rather than trying to bend this play to her will.