22nd June – 13th October
When I go to see Macbeth, I expect blood. I expect gallons of the stuff all over the stage, I expect red smeared all over the actors, the props, the walls – I even expect to get smattered with it myself.
I also expect to be scared. I want to be so scared I have to sleep with the light on that night, so disturbed by the nature of humans I doubt my own capabilities to kill, so concerned and absorbed that I forget how the play ends.
The Globe’s Macbeth this summer failed to do these two very simple things. I was not scared, and aside from a couple of half-hearted blood capsules, there was no blood. I have never been disappointed by a performance at the Globe before, it is simply assumed it will be the best of the best, but I am sorry to report that their reliable streak has been well and truly shattered.
My attention wasn’t held for much longer than after the interval, the fighting was unrealistically slow and laboured, the incredible Shakespearean language became sawdust in the mouths of the actors, even the drunk clown didn’t provide relief as his own sorrow seeped through too strongly.
Despite all of this, I do understand what the director was attempting to do. Macbeth has rapidly become a platform for directors to experiment with the gruesomeness of the story and pushing the limits of the abstract – I’ve even seen a modern performance where the witches were homeless and the cauldron was a waste-paper basket, with the ghost of Banquo appearing in a mirror. In her directing debut, Eve Best was attempting to strip the play right back to it’s roots to how it would originally have been performed, with far more of a focus on the language. Unfortunately, audiences are now so accustomed to a more stimulating performance that this was rather lost on them.
It wasn’t all bad though. The music was reliably beautiful and the witches accompanied their bizarre performance with haunting singing, although choosing to sing ‘bubble bubble toil and trouble’ was an odd choice for Best to have made. The descent of Macbeth, and Lady Macbeth into madness was gradual and measured as it should be, the ghost of Banquo was eerie, and when he appeared at the banquet, my attention had cleverly been directed towards another area of the stage so that he came as much as a shock to me as to Macbeth, played by Joseph Millson.
Much to my delight, there was also more of a focus on the plight of woman in war in this performance, with Lady Macbeth’s scene where she is trying to wash off the blood from her hands the best I have ever seen it done. Samantha Spiro portrayed the real agony of a woman losing her mind in her desperation to protect her husband. And Lady MacDuff’s determination to battle through the suffering war brings. Equally the moment where MacDuff learns his wife and child have been killed is such a moving moment and is the most human moment as we remember this is more than just a power battle.
However, although these redeeming factors might salvage an amateur production, for a venue as prestigious as the Globe, the performance lost the essence of the play, and I was actually relieved when Macbeth was finally stabbed to death at the end – with a distinct lack of blood.