The Shakespeare’s Globe hit the headlines recently, when a man in a full latex gimp suit and face mask rocked up to a performance of The Comedy of Errors. It prompted a few complaints, but Globe staff shrugged off the furore and were largely worried that the rubbery punter might overheat. He was stood in front of the stage at a matinee on a warm day.
Fetish enthusiasts were less visible on the night we attended Macbeth at the Globe, but one of the venue’s strengths is to render the audience as almost another actor in the proceedings. The shape and design of the Globe means that in the summer months when it is light, the full range of humanity is on show, whether that’s in the cheap ticket pit or one of the galleries.
At one point, Macbeth (Max Bennet) exited the stage through the audience. ‘Move,’ he barked, while sweeping through the GCSE teens, tourists and Bard boffins. The ripple of shock that Macbeth was among them could be felt all around the Globe. Prior to the banquet, as Macbeth feels the stress and pressure, he demanded wine and snatched a glass of red from a young woman in the audience. He then downed it in one. That breaking of the 4th wall and apparent act of reckless abandon drew amused gasps but was true to the character. It also gave us a brief window into the bawdier vibes of Elizabethan theatre.
Abigail Graham’s production is modern take on Macbeth, that largely pulls it off with some subtle updates to the text and novel staging. Perhaps controversially, the witches are played by men, who also double up as members of the household and the hit men hired by Macbeth. They were rather like the droogs from Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange in both their style and demeanour. Oddly enough, it worked.
In place of a cauldron, they had a food blender in a morgue-like setting. Liquidising chunks of offal in a noisy swirl of gore was visceral and effective- the audience was gleefully revolted. Calum Callaghan was particularly strong as one of the witches, excelling in dark comedy and a compulsive malevolence.
Fode Simbo played a blinder as Banquo. His stage presence and command of the language was a joy to behold. Every scene he stepped into had an added electricity. He deserves to go far. Max Bennett’s Macbeth was solid, but sometimes, it was difficult not to be distracted by his physicality. Yes, he looked dishy when stripped to the waist for the penultimate scenes, but his features seemed rather boyish for a grizzled dog of the battlefield.
Costume designs by Ti Green were sharp, slick and well observed, aside from Macbeth’s coronation get up which felt a bit fancy dress. The set design, in which the stage was wrapped in shonky grey material felt like an after-thought or the result of a dwindling budget. Queen Duncan (Tamzin Griffin) proved so brilliantly imperious and captivating that it was truly criminal that she got slain so early in proceedings.
Shakespeare can feel like hard work if one isn’t an enthusiast. However, there’s many risks in attempting to make it easier to digest. This show felt like a balanced compromise. Graham’s edits and tweaks were at times bold, but perhaps key to keeping this Macbeth snappy, provocative and engaging.
Macbeth is at Shakespeare’s Globe until 28th October, https://www.shakespearesglobe.com/
Reviewer: Stewart Who?
Reviewed: 3rd August 2023
North West End UK Rating: