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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
MACBETH
at Shakespeare's Globe

GRIP OF HALLUCINATION
By RACHEL HALLIBURTON

  Joseph Millson and Samantha Spiro/ Ph: Ellie Kurttz

Great performers don’t always make great directors. Judi Dench is just one example of a household name whose flawless instincts as an actor haven’t translated well into taking the helm of an entire production. So Eve Best – famous for playing Dr O’Hara in Nurse Jackie, but also acclaimed for stage appearances including a gloriously dignified Duchess of Malfi last year at the Old Vic – is taking a risk by making her directorial debut. She has added to the risk by taking on both Macbeth, one of the trickiest of Shakespeare’s works to bring convincingly to life, and the English elements, by staging it outside at the Globe.
 
So it is a delight to report that the gamble has paid off. For a start, this is one of the most enjoyable Macbeths you’ll ever see. Counter-intuitively, Best plays it for laughs, yet manages to maintain the Globe-friendly air of levity without sacrificing any of the dramatic tension needed to strike at the play’s dark emotional core.
 
How does she do this? One of the most interesting aspects of her interpretation is to emphasise the sense of unreality that grips Joseph Millson’s Macbeth when he first encounters the witches. Reeling from his recent experiences of battle, heady with victory, and at one point helped a little by waccy baccy from Banquo, he is a man who seems to be in the constant grip of a hallucination. This means that some of the credibility leaps in the play itself become part of the essential fabric of his growing paranoia. A key moment happens when he shifts round the stage as if the imaginary dagger he sees before him is about to attack him.
 
The brilliance of Samantha Spiro’s performance as Lady Macbeth is not least to do with her growing horror as she realises what kind of monster her husband is becoming. She is without doubt the great force of this production – while Millson makes a dashing, strong Macbeth, he is clearly in her psychological grip. But the nightmare for her is that her husband goes much further than even she intends. The terror on her face when she realizes her husband has killed Duncan’s guards adds to the sense that they are all living in a waking nightmare.
 
With the press night the day after the Egyptian coup, it was difficult not to think of the contemporary political echoes of a tragedy where an army commander replaces a weak and incompetent ruler. Yet the power of this production is in its psychological more than its political detail. It is a portrait of how ambition ravages a marriage.
 
One of the less successful ways in which Best reflects this is when Macbeth places his hands round Lady Macbeth’s throat in a frenzy. It inevitably evokes the recent furore in the UK press when art collector Charles Saatchi was photographed with his hands round his wife Nigella Lawson’s throat at a restaurant. Yet it also puzzles, since no matter what one’s opinion is of either Saatchi or Lawson, there is no level on which you could compare their marriage to the Macbeths. Two months ago the gesture would have been powerful. Now, because of the warped relationship between press images and collective emotion, it strikes the production’s one false note.
 
Still, against the backdrop of Mike Britton’s wooden, mud-spattered set, the abiding impression is of a vigorous and intelligent production. There are many lovely light touches: the foppishness of King Duncan’s sons (Philip Cumbus’ Malcolm recoils in disgust as a gore-spattered messenger brings the first report of Macbeth’s achievements on the battlefield), and the stylish humour of Bette Bourne’s Drunken Porter. A striking opening – where the players stand frozen in a tableau gazing curiously at the audience, before engaging in a frenzy of bellicose drumming – sets up the mixture of dignity and playfulness that marks the production as a whole. Best has given her best.

 


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