Macbeth at Shakespeare’s Globe
William Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a play that draws on the uncanny and unsettling: from perturbing witches to disturbing infanticide. Director Abigail Graham’s new version for Shakespeare’s Globe does conjure these feelings powerfully. However, the production’s uneven tone leads to some inappropriate questions. Should a version of this infamous tragedy ever make the audience laugh so much?
When warriors Macbeth (Max Bennett) and Banquo (Fode Simbo) hear fortuitous prophecies from three wretched hags (played by Calum Callaghan, Ben Caplan and Ferdy Roberts in an effectively disconcerting gender-swap), the titular anti-hero decides to pursue a dark course to power. Assassinating Queen Duncan (Tamzin Griffin in a second, less significant, gender-swap of the royal role) with Lady Macbeth (Matti Houghton), the now-crowned usurper is driven to further murderous intent by thoughts of his precarious future.
Composer Osnat Schmool’s funereal choral compositions and designer Ti Green’s set evoke melancholy discord. The Globe’s apron stage is completely shrouded in grey cloth, with a metallic tree of antler-like branches hung upside down for a striking centrepiece. Ominous and otherworldly, three blasted stumps have been planted in the pit from which the male witches can perch predatorily above the audience. Whether using or shedding Anna Dixon’s rubber bird-masked, white hazmat costumes, this genuinely unnerving trio are the production’s most memorable innovation. Their infamous cauldron scene is envisioned as a bloody morgue littered with excised organs and a kitchen blender for a mixing pot.
Yet when Roberts whizzes up body parts in the unlikely cauldron, it seems even this terrifying scene is being played humorously. Likewise, the ensemble’s performances hover between serious intent and attempting to make the audience laugh. Adlibbing with the text, awkward physical gestures, suggestive silences and off-putting props curse most of the production. It ends up turning weighty tragedy into perverse comedy.
As the eponymous tyrant, Bennett switches between distress and mania believably, though he’s often leaping through the lines at an incomprehensible pace. Houghton’s performance offers unexpected vulnerability when not spiked with scrappy screaming. Only a grief-stricken speech by Aaron Anthony’s Macduff brings real intensity to the stage.
The unconventional casting of pre-teen actors (Cam’ron Joseph, Timothy Daniels, Luke Beggs,) as the younger characters helps foreground themes of lineage and child loss. Their death scenes are depicted so unflinchingly, it gives the play a wicked edge. However, the production’s tone is just too weird to give Shakespeare’s Macbeth the truly troubling rendering it deserves.
Photos: Johan Persson
Macbeth is at Shakespeare’s Globe from 5th August until 28th October 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.