Thursday, August 25, 2016

MACBETH at the Globe: blood, knocks, spots....

Last week we visited the Globe Theatre for the fourth time since Emma Rice became Artistic Director.  I cannot say that I have enjoyed any of the productions whole-heartedly although her MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM eventually won me over (although this was more to do with Shakespeare's words) so how would Iqbal Khan's production of MACBETH go over with me?

To be honest I have never seen a production that I liked very much.  I was taken with the school to see a production at the Young Vic in 1975.  Directed by Frank Dunlop, his idea was to have three actors (Alfred Lynch, James Bolam, Derek Fowlds) play Macbeth to chart the three stages of the character's development while his Lady Macbeth was played by two actresses (Joanna McCallum, Judy Wilson) to show scheming Lady M and broken Lady M; the supporting cast also featured Cleo Sylvestre and Anthony Daniels.  Even at that tender age I thought that the idea of multiple actors playing the roles was daft - surely an actor would want to play all the shades of the character rather than just one aspect?

I didn't see another MACBETH until 1993 when I saw Alan Howard and Anastasia Hille in an underwhelming National Theatre production directed by Richard Eyre, then in 2005 there was another unsatisfactory production directed by John Caird at the Almeida starring Simon Russell Beale.  Yes he spoke Macbeth's speeches wonderfully but hardly convinced as someone who will murder anyone to stay King.

I actually liked making the acquaintance of the play again and it's unrelenting narrative drive but again found a lot to make me sigh.  First off, as Owen suggested, for all Emma Rice's reported love of the stage she does seem to put on productions that cover it up as much as possible:  Ciaran Bagnall's black metal mesh set design covered up the stage pillars and the back of the stage as well as extending the stage outwards with a metal walkway (for no real reason).

A black tarpaulin hung above the stage to be utilized at times, notably as Banquo's ghost.  Also dotted around the yard - for no discernible reason - were Gormleyesque metal figures.  I watched them intently, expecting them to sprout branches and to advance on the stage at the finale to represent the English army advancing on Dunsinane castle.  But no, they didn't do a thing.

Khan's decision to have the three witches represented as three escapees from a grotty Kate Bush lookalike contest didn't move me much and neither did the artistic choice for their lines to be sung in a sing-songy way by offstage singers which made it hard to concentrate on what was actually being said.

He also had the profoundly irritating trop of having a small boy schlep around the stage during the action, seemingly the child of the Macbeth's, which goes against the text.  The ending was particularly odd: the newly-crowned King Malcolm flinched when he turned and saw the little boy - why?  All through the play the text says that Banquo's children will reign, not Macbeths...

Ray Fearon as Macbeth bellowed his way through his speeches while Tara Fitzgerald gave a smaller, more naturalistic reading of Lady Macbeth's soliloquies, they did work well together in their joint scenes however.

The supporting cast held some interesting performances: Freddie Stewart was a smarmy Malcolm, Jacob Fortune-Lloyd's Macduff was virile and a rare Scots accent and Jermaine Dominique was missed with the murder of Banquo.  Sam Cox's King Duncan was a bit of a misfire however.  The Porter's speech was livened up by one-armed Nadia Albina's almost stand-up routine - although did we really need a reference to Donald Trump?  Really??

It sounds like I hated it doesn't it?  But like I said, I found it oddly gripping.  Maybe the next one will be the production that I find definitive.

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