nick730 (nick730) wrote,

Theatre review: Macbeth

If I was ever going to go see a Shakespeare play at midnight, then surely Macbeth is the play to see, especially at the Globe where you can actually tell the difference. (Someone did mention that a couple of years ago they did A Midsummer Night's Dream at midnight on Midsummer Night, which would be the best choice in terms of timing, but in terms of atmosphere Macbeth has to be it.) This production, the first in the Globe's 2010 "Kings and Rogues" season, is a fitting one for the middle of the night as well, since director Lucy Bailey's conceit is a sort of Macbeth-as-Faustus, casting the theatre's three galleries as Dante's circles of Hell, and the Yard as the Pit. Visually, designer Katrina Lindsay has taken very specific inspiration from this Gustave Doré illustration of the frozen lake of Cocytus, with the faces of the damned stuck in the ice:

So the Yard is partly covered by a tent with holes in it, which the groundlings stick their heads out of to recreate the image.

Elliot "Heath Ledger with less hair and more pulse" Cowan plays the title role, and his is a particularly angry, demented Macbeth, who once the feast scene has passed remains pretty much at that same level of derangement throughout. Laura Rogers is a flirty Lady Macbeth and after a highly sexed first scene together, Bailey shows the deterioration of their relationship from there on. The witches are properly disconcerting, helped partly because, having cast a "little person" (Karen Anderson's own words in her programme bio) as Third Witch, Bailey then proceeds to use her as a sort of Don't Look Now grotesque parody of a child. This trio are there to drag as many people into hell as they can, and the play opens with bodies drenched in blood emerging from holes in the Yard's tent. It's a pretty gory production overall, with loud neck-snapping, eye-gouging, and bodies being unceremoniously dumped in a pit. The fact that, during the interval, an oversized platter of food is carefully placed over a trapdoor, gives away pretty obviously how Banquo's ghost will make its grisly entrance during the feast, doesn't detract from it's effectiveness.

Ultimately it's mainly the big setpieces that will be memorable here, although some smaller moments stood out as well - I loved how Josh Swinney's Fleance played with Macbeth's throne and crown, a nice bit of foreshadowing. In between the big moments things sometimes go a bit more conventional, and after the aforementioned feast scene the second half in particular drags a bit. (I'm sure that once, just once, I saw a production where I "got" the Malcolm/Macduff "I am a horrible nasty person LOL NOT RLY!!!" scene, although I couldn't tell you when that was; anyway this production wasn't going to do the trick either.) Even the sleepwalking scene I found a bit perfunctory. And while I'm not often fussed about costume, I did find myself thinking these were a bit dull, as if Lindsay had put all of her creative juices into the excellent set. Fortunately things perk up again in time for the conclusion, and I especially loved the moment when Macbeth realises how the witches' second set of prophecies have been both accurate and deceptive, as he looks out at where the three of them cackle in the audience, having trapped him at last - it really solidifies the Faustian angle of the production.

As for seeing it at midnight, it certainly adds a bit of excitement to proceedings, although what it's done to my already-dodgy body clock remains to be seen. There's something great, though, about getting to "There's husbandry in Heaven" and being able to look up at the night sky and see that the candles are, indeed, all out. Although it being a clear night that would be because city lights make the stars less visible, which is perhaps not quite what Shakespeare was thinking of.

Macbeth by William Shakespeare is booking until the 27th of June at Shakespeare's Globe (this was, however, the only midnight performance.)
Tags: macbeth, shakespeare, theatre, theatre reviews

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