by William Shakespeare
Directed by Iqbal Khan
Music by Jocelyn Pook
Design by Ciaran Bagnell.
Shakespeare’s Globe, London
Sunday 19th July 2016, 13.00
Ray Fearon – Macbeth
Tara Fitzgerald – Lady Macbeth
Jacob Fortune-Lloyd – MacDuff
Scarlett Brookes – Lady MacDuff / Young Siward
Sam Cox – Duncan
Freddie Stewart – Malcolm
Jermaine Dominique – Banquo
Nadia Albina – Porter
Elizabeth Andrewartha – Ross
Lloyd Thomas – Seyton
Kerry Gooderson – Donalblain / Fleance / Young MacDuff
Danielle Bird – Gentlewoman
Terence Keeley- The Captain
Ansuman Biswas – MD, percussion, violin, guitar
Laura Moody – cello, voice
Melanie Pappenheim – voice
Selina Sykes – oboe, shawm, grill, voice
The stage before the start. The black cloth, severed body parts right. See statue left – there were four in the pit, presumably one for each wyrd sister- the programme explains that “witches” is a modern change.
We had wondered this Globe season about the absence of “regulars” in the new regime. Sam Cox was in two Wanamaker plays in the winter, but otherwise the RSC connections are stronger, especially from 2015. The other question this year is costume. The Globe website has people enquiring whether the play will be in 17th century costume. Simple answer … no. It’s modern with late 19th / early 20th century frogging on regal jackets, and touches of medieval armour and kingly robes, modern battledress on soldiers. Eclectic? A hotchpotch? That can be effective, though it still leaves the question hanging about what will be in Jacobean costume this year, or even ever again. The Merchant of Venice, yes, because that’s revived from last year. Otherwise, none so far.
Everyone seems sensitive on the issue of The Globe’s new regime. We can assume that it was originally played in 1606 costume, not 11th century Scots kilts and sporrans. The Globe does need to beware that the Jacobean gear is indeed what so many foreign visitors come for.
The start is anyone’s five star production. A black cloth lifts to reveal the four (yes, they added one, presumably Hecate) wyrd sisters and a smoking, in that smoke is emerging from it, bloodied corpse. They revive the corpse and manipulate him like a puppet so that he becomes the sergeant. Later, as Macbeth and Banquo arrive, a soprano (Melanie Pappenheim) in the minstrel’s gallery delivers the wyrd sisters’ lines. They move into incredible puppetry, with body parts and different heads ending up with what looks like a three legged spider, with a pelvic bone for a face striding off. This is a Phew! This is going to be fantastic, and yes, largely it was.
The other current issue at the Globe is the use of technology. This has recorded sound, overhead strobe flashes for thunder, some recorded music pieces supplementing the live band. There’s wrought ironwork over the rear and surrounding the pillars. Black industrial iron boxes form thrones and seats. On the other hand the use of puppets, and the ghost of Banquo, which had him rising from the stage trap under a black cloth, was within the technical capabilities of 1606. The “show of eight kings followed by Banquo” was important to Shakespeare, sucking up as he was to James I of England / James VI of Scotland, who believed his own lineage stretched back to Banquo through that many ancestors… the programme tells us Banquo was fictional. Here it was economically eight paper lanterns with gold crowns dropped from the ceiling to stand suspended through the scene. I’d guess many hardly noticed the reference, though they did have a good puppet head of Banquo at the end.
In the first Macbeth / Banquo/ Wyrd Sisters scene, the music is loud. It’s also chillingly atmospheric. Ray Fearon could get his volume above the noise though he was shouting; but Banquo had more difficulty. The music was unfortunately loud enough to drown vital lines at some points. Reviews took issue with a soprano delivering the wyrd sisters’ lines, but we thought it was sufficiently clear, and added.
Ray Fearon as Macbeth
We have seen so many slight and even effete Macbeths. This is a man who waded in his enemies’ blood, a charismatic war hero. Ray Fearon is exactly what the part needs, a man with powerful physique and presence. Having seen him as Mark Anthony (and Macbeth refers to Mark Anthony in a speech: My genius is rebuked, as, it is said, Mark Anthony’s was by Caesar) and as Agamemnon, Fearon has the physical power coupled with as good a Shakespearean delivery as you will find. The only error, one which we both noted, was that he should have got his shirt off and shown-off his rippling musculature. Fearon’s delivery of the lines reminds of Olivier … it’s never understated, but all the better for that. A fabulous “Sound and fury” speech.
Tara Fitzgerald as Lady Macbeth
Tara Fitzgerald played Lady Macbeth, and looked right, though she got some negative reviews for lack of volume. It is hard to keep up with Fearon’s powerful delivery and she was comparatively quiet. We had good central seats in the Lower Gallery, and I could hear her easily, but I imagine it was hard in the upper galleries to one side. She sounded hoarse today, so she has been trying to address that by raising volume.
This is a sexy Macbeth / Lady Macbeth where we’re supposed to see them lusting after each other. That got criticised (a sexual heat between the couple that never really convinces was one) but it worked well enough, and she got a great laugh on her exit line at one point which she turned into an invitation. It was the standard way of doing it a decade or so ago … I remember Sean Bean’s Macbeth taking the scene writhing in bed. There were many good points in her portrayal … throwing wine in the reluctant Macbeth’s face for instance.
The omnipresent “boy” in this version worries critics. The Macbeths are childless now, though apparently they lost a baby. Who is the child who keeps appearing, and having his hair tousled by Lady Macbeth? I simply assumed it was the spectre of the lost child. Others tried to work out how a real Macbeth Jnr. squared with the rest and Macbeth’s worries about Banquo’s lineage inheriting the crown. THE CHILD IS THEIR IMAGINATION. I felt the same about the hovering monk with sunglasses though, at one point sitting arm in arm with the boy. Who is he? Why? When? Where? Who with? How?
We compared it to Titus Andronicus, Julius Caesar , Anthony & Cleopatra at the Globe. I’ve often railed against National Theatre productions with casts of over thirty as a waste of resources. The play is full of characters no one remembers and whose lines are normally taken by others: Lennox, Caithness, Seyton, Mentieth, Angus, Hecate, An Old Man, an English doctor, a Scottish doctor) The doubling / tripling / quadrupling / quintupling worked, but this amount of doubling is touring production rather than a major London production running for months. Sam Cox has to play an enigmatic monk, King Duncan, the Doctor, a Lord, and Siward in rapid succession. Kerry Gooderson has to play Malcolm’s younger son Donalblain, Fleance and MacDuff junior, as well as various lords and soldiers. Nadia Albina is a witch, the porter, a lord and a soldier. The point is that all three are highly distinctive in appearance. They do it brilliantly, but for a play with major battles, you would expect a larger cast. You don’t need a National Theatre thirty, but an extra three or four would improve it. At least they didn’t swill blood over every surface, as was the fashion in 2014.
Nadia Albina as the Porter
The scene that got massive applause as it ended was Nadia Albina’s sexy comic porter. As at the RSC in 2011, the porter was allowed major improvisation and topical reference … she tries to remember the name of a devil, and recalls it was “Trump.” Reviews mention a Brexit reference, but either I missed it or she’s dropped it. She made great use of her disability … her right arm ends at the elbow … trying to “High Five” and realising she couldn’t, and screaming when the arrivals grab her truncated arm.
Macbeth as King
Another solo improvisation was the “summing up” scene (Act 3 Scene 6) where Lennox and “a Lord” remind us of the plot so far. Here it opens the second part as a solo piece, with the two combined. There’s a line from Lennox to “Lord” which is Sir, can you tell me where he bestows himself?” referring to MacDuff’s retreat to England. It was turned into a question to an audience member who shook his head, and was asked Have you been watching the play?
The murder of Banquo (Jermaine Dominique)
We have very strong performances from Jacob Fortune-Lloyd’s MacDuff, as well as an outstanding Banquo from Jermaine Dominique. Banquo’s murder was extremely long indeed and ended with one dead assassin (Freddie Stewart, doubling as Malcolm) being rolled over the edge of the stage into the audience, a novel way of body disposal. He then snuck out through the groundlings. In the Lady MacDuff scene, they were killed at the edge of the trap and rolled in. Some fighting was long, but theatrical, a nice way of saying slightly unconvincing. Macbeth and MacDuff were both the most accomplished at swordplay.
Some funny bits fail. Sam Cox plays a bizarre Duncan, skipping around, pausing all over the place. It’s quite the oddest Duncan I’ve seen. I thought the murder of Lady MacDuff and her “son” (the obsession with aiming for 50% females at The Globe continues) was undercooked, but then I’ll never forget the 2011 RSC version.
We liked it more than the proper press, who were harsh. The reviews from the major newspapers had an enormous range. Looking at the several strong negatives, I see references to a “three hour production.” Well, it started 1 pm, had a twenty minute interval, and ended at ten to four. I make that a two and a half hour production. On the way in we were warned “the first half is one hour forty minutes” (This is the if you need a pee, have it now warning) but it ended at two thirty, ten minutes shorter. As no one appeared to be racing their lines, I’m guessing there were quite severe cuts, possibly after press night.
We felt it had the necessary Globe magic, and the huge and long applause at the end in the sunshine surely compensates the cast for what critics say.
* * * * (4 stars)
BUT wyrd sisters / puppetry ***** and Ray Fearon as Macbeth, *****
WHAT THE PAPERS SAID
Neil Norman in The Daily Express gives it one star, calls it atrocious, and says “it’s one of the worst productions of Macbeth I’ve ever seen.” Hmm, you’ve led a sheltered life. I once saw Macbeth done with a cast of three.
Switch to The Independent and David Lister rates it as five stars, and adds:
No caveats can really distract from such a thrilling, beautifully spoken production, with the richly evocative music a memorable backdrop to two riveting central performances. This is the Globe at its best.
Donald Cooper in The Times gave it two stars, and was perhaps offended by the jokey references to the newspaper’s proprietor (Rupert Murdoch)’s good buddy, Donald Trump.
Dominic Cavendish in The Telegraph didn’t like it either, with a two star review. Like other critics, he was amazed to find four witches (We three sisters …). He says:
This production should be called Four Witches and a Funeral – the funeral being for a text that’s strangled and battered by indifferent to terrible verse-speaking. I blame Khan. He lets the pace drag, has countenanced an ugly design, and while the loud, Celtic-moody music casts a spell, it also overwhelms. There are also too many notes of jarring comedy.
OK, but in the original the three witches or wyrd sisters, do meet Hecate who has lines. Yes, they’re often cut … but having four does have justification.
Michael Billington in The Guardian is usually my benchmark, has seen more than anyone else, and gives it three stars. He was puzzled by the child, hanging around the Macbeths throughout.
Natasha Triply for The Stage found it lacking in chemistry and gave it three stars.
Good interview with Iqbal Khan. Fascinating note on witch / wyrd / weird / wayward for the sisters. Good history of Scotland. Only two kings died in their beds between Macbeth and James VI. Kenneth II sounds worth a play of his own. Usual high Globe standard, but they should list ALL the parts each actor plays.
OTHER “MACBETH” REVIEWS ON THIS BOG:
Macbeth – McAvoy 2013, Trafalgar Studio, James McAvoy as Macbeth
Macbeth, RSC 2011 Jonathan Slinger as Macbeth
Macbeth – Tara Arts 2015 (Shakespeare’s Macbeth) on tour, Poole Lighthouse
Macbeth, Young Vic, 2015
OTHER REVIEWS ON THIS BLOG:
The Winter’s Tale – RSC 2013(Hermione)