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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
MACBETH
at Shakespeare’s Globe

MIND FULL OF SCORPIONS
By MICHAEL COVENEY

  (L to R) Janet Fullerlove, Karen Anderson, Elliot Cowan and Simone Kirby/ Ph: Ellie Kurttz

Macbeth in modern times – certainly since the legendary RSC Trevor Nunn version with Judi Dench and Ian McKellen – has been a stark, swift chamber play, black and nasty, pierced with poetry. That all changed with Rupert Goold’s below-stairs kitchen shocker starring Patrick Stewart; and the revival by Lucy Bailey at the Globe goes even further.

In a way, it’s an old-fashioned production, fully restoring the witches, who resemble the draped, haunted hags of a Fuseli painting, and drenching the stage in blood. But the horror goes even further, as Bailey – responsible for innovative productions of both Titus Andronicus (with, again, gore galore) and Timon of Athens (with scavenging human crows and black netting) at this address – and designer Katrina Lindsay literally recreate hell on earth.

The pit is covered in a black tarpaulin, through which the pit-dwellers push their heads, like so many lost souls on Judgment Day. Even before the play starts, the bells are tolling, the bagpipes are wailing and the devils are writhing. And the poor old Thane of Cawdor – whose dignified expiry is usually only reported – is taunted, tortured, stripped of his medals and deprived of his tongue, which is then thrown into the pit.

So, like Macbeth himself, we sup full of horrors, not least at the banquet scene, where Banquo’s bloody ghost pushes up through a large plate of cold meats and vegetables, like that arm in Deliverance. Corpses are dispatched down the hatch, the witches parade their grubby collection of eyes of newt and fingers of blaspheming Jew, and the porter at hell’s gate throws a bucketful of urine over the audience. It’s a killer thriller of an evening.

And there’s a pretty sturdy cast at the centre of it, too. The Macbeths are played by muscular Elliot Cowan, recently seen as Stanley Kowalski in the Donmar’s A Streetcar Named Desire, and Laura Rogers, a pretty young Globe regular in recent seasons. They are a genuinely sexy couple – in strong contrast to the slightly tacky duo of Patrick Stewart’s grizzled tyrant and his voluptuous, much younger arm candy, Kate Fleetwood (Goold’s wife) – unable to keep their hands off each other at first; this makes their disintegrating marriage in crazed power-lust all the more poignantly tragic.

The barbarity of the story line is well suited to this approach, and fully renewed: celebrity couple torn apart in supernatural plot to turn world upside down and send nation to dogs. This is all the more effective for the relief in which it’s set: Duncan spends his last night in the castle round the camp fire singing old Scottish ballads with his not-so-camp followers.

The Macbeths are encircled by a gauze curtain for their intimate reunion, and that same circular framework carries steaming braziers into the second witches’ scene. There are visions of dwarf kings – the seed of Banquo kings – scowling murderers, battle-crazed soldiers.

And the notorious “England” scene – in which James McArdle’s striking Malcolm (the impressive actor’s a new David Tennant, methinks) bombards Keith Dunphy’s impassioned Irish Macduff with false report of his bottomless evil – comes alive for once as a grimly comic epilogue to the virtually pornographic destruction of Macduff’s family.

Cowan is not the sort of heroic actor to reveal the poetic soul of Macbeth. Instead, his increasing instability is simply down to madness – from the minute he declares his mind is full of scorpions – and a sort of riveting, falsetto desperation. And Rogers plays the sleepwalking scene as a hyperventilating bedroom doll, tragically stripped of her glamour status.

There’s a fine Ross from Julius D’Silva, a touching Banquo from Christian Bradley and an outstanding Lady Macduff from Simone Kirby, doubling as one of the witches alongside the weirdly maternal Janet Fullerlove and the eldritch, gimlet-eyed Karen Anderson. The impressive music is by Orlando Gough, and the notably fluent and expressive movement and choreography by Javier de Frutos.

 

 


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