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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
MACBETH
at Shakespeare's Globe

PAIN AND PASSION
By MICHAEL COVENEY

  Bette Bourne/ Ph: Ellie Kurttz

It was slightly unfortunate for the Globe that their new Macbeth – with two perfectly competent but essentially lightweight, often musical-theatre actors, Joseph Millson and Samantha Spiro, as the Scottish hosts from Hades – opened over the same weekend as Kenneth Branagh’s gripping and infinitely more exciting version in Manchester.
 
There is, remarkably enough, a muddy stockade in the design of both productions, but Mike Britton’s is far more decorative, high white fencing strung awkwardly across the open thrust and splattered dung brown, though the costumes remain dry-cleaned.
 
The director is that superb actress Eve Best, who has played in Pinter and O’Neill on Broadway, and who gave wonderful performances herself at the Globe not only as Lady Macbeth, a decade ago, but more recently as a definitive and heart-melting Beatrice in Much Ado.
 
So it’s not surprising, perhaps, that she exhibits a real understanding of the tragic splintering and loneliness in the Macbeths’ marriage (even if the chemistry of the leads doesn’t quite carry this through) and a deft, light touch in the mobility of the actors and the few comic corners. One or two critics have even complained that the audience roared with laughter from start to finish, which wasn’t the case at my performance.
 
The Porter, in fact, is not as funny as he can be, but Bette Bourne (a male, cross-dressing actor of advancing years) is a lovely old red-nosed vaudevillian in the role, which is quite heavily cut, and is summarily despatched down the stage trap by Millson, when he’s had enough, with the un-Shakespearean command, “Back in your box!”
 
Duncan, too, is played as a merry old cove by Gawn Grainger, though the inevitable doubling you get in large-cast plays these days means that he pops up at the banquet as an “honoured guest,” though at first you think he’s upstaged Banquo as the main ghost. When Billy Boyd’s anodyne Banquo does appear, his cropped hairstyle makes Millson’s “Shake not thy gory locks at me” unintentionally comic, too.
 
More importantly, you don’t get that profound sense of a soldierly friendship falling apart, which certainly characterises the Branagh version. The loss (and murder) of Banquo is almost as tragic as the collapse of the marital partnership, and Best stages the entrances and exits of the couple after a violent contretemps – Millson shakes Spiro by the neck as the light thickens and crows make wing to the rooky wood – with a chill rigour through separate doors.
 
The outstanding performance is that of Philip Cumbus as Malcolm, making of that priggish goody two-shoes a plausible, slightly effete and notably well-spoken monarch in waiting. And there’s a feisty, furious, Lady Macduff from Finty Williams (Judi Dench’s daughter), although she’s handicapped in the castle massacre scene by having a son taller than she is (“Poor prattler, how thou talk’st!”). That actor, Colin Ryan, makes a good fist of Donalbain and Fleance, too.
 
Oddly, there are no trees when Birnam Wood doth come to Dunsinane, neither in London nor Manchester (“Let every soldier hew him down a bough”). The leafy screens at the Globe are slender pickings, while Branagh’s mob brandishes a sort of bamboo-like spatula of twined bracken. Both exhibits could have come from a craft centre.
 
As so often at the Globe, the company dances (music by Olly Fox, choreography by Siân Williams) are the highlight, the show opening with an ensemble drumming to waken the dead – followed by three very well contrasted and articulated, slinky, ragamuffin witches – and closing with an elaborate and genuinely moving farewell, all pain and passion spent.

 


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