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Macbeth – Shakespeare’s Globe, London

Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Iqbal Khan
Reviewer: Andy Moseley

On a stormy night in London, an act of treachery leads to the bloody and ultimately short-lived rule of a paranoid former foot soldier. Make up your own punchline for any events going on further down the Thames but this is actually the latest production of Macbeth at the Globe. Three years on from Eve Best’s directorial debut, Iqbal Khan takes the reins, with an interpretation that emphasises the universality and timelessness of the story by consciously avoiding any specific time period or location in the choice of costumes, actors and accents. The result is that, in spite of some very impressive elements, it lacks a clear identity.

The words of the wyrd sisters are sung with an eerie elegance, and the sisters themselves are gothic and mysterious rather than frightening caricatures that cackle as they impart part truths. The crowning of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth also channels the use of gothic imagery with attendants dressed from head to toe in black as dry ice pours out through the gates the King and Queen emerge from. Banquo’s ghost completes this semi-supernatural effects trilogy as he rises sheathed in the cover that marks the boundaries of Macbeth’s banquet. His slow emergence is particularly effective as is his final terrorising of Macbeth as smoke pours out from his eyes before he disappears along with the sheet that covered him.

The music of Jocelyn Pook and the work of sound designer John Leonard are also a plus point with bass heavy sounds combining with both angelic and Celtic vocal stylings to evoke an atmosphere of stormy far-flung lands where fierce battles will take place. Sadly, however, Khan has not fully embraced these elements and some of his other choices seem directly at odds with them.

A stand-up routine from Nadia Albina as Porter gets the audience laughing, particularly when she throws in a Donald Trump gag, but it takes the production into an absurdist music hall direction. Macbeth’s one-liner that follows her departure is very funny but again comes from another place entirely. The killing of Banquo seemed like a fight scene from Hollywood, continuing way beyond the point at which anyone would still be alive, let alone able to put up a spirited fight.

All of this leads on to the performances, in particular, Ray Fearon’s Macbeth and Tara Fitzgerald’s Lady Macbeth. Fearon only really starts to convince, and indeed the play only really starts to come alive, after the killings begin. He grows in stature the nearer he gets to his ultimate demise, with the ‘a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury’ speech being the moment where he truly inhabits the character and all his contradictions. Earlier in the play, both he and Fitzgerald lack any real passion. Her goading of him, and his responses, sound like the accompaniment to a simple domestic dispute rather than reflecting both the anticipated act and the consequences of it for themselves and their country. Some barely audible dialogue also makes it harder to get engaged in their portrayals. Even when the madness descends upon her, Fitzgerald seems to be delivering lines rather than giving a fully rounded performance.

Of course, any production of Macbeth, and particularly one at the Globe, will always have a lot to live up to, and any interpretations will be judged against previous similar ones. Where a production lacks a distinctive image, such comparisons may be avoided, but it also means the end result doesn’t have a clear sense of purpose, and won’t live on long in the collective memory.

Runs until 1 October 2016 | Image: Marc Brenner

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The Reviews Hub London is under the editorship of John Roberts.The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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