theater: macbeth at the globe

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Cloth wrappings are integral to Iqbal Khan’s Macbeth; the witches, four of them, perform a body-part puppet show with a black curtain while a PA system speaks their speech over ghostly music. At intervals through the action, characters appear draped in tents, encased in overcoats, swaddled in bedding, smothered and screaming. Out of these depths emerges a memorable production that has placed Khan with Josie Rourke on my list of directors to keep track of.

The beauty of the Globe tends to overwhelm the plays it was meant to showcase. It’s the opposite of the immersive cinema experience and actors have to work extra hard to draw attention. Khan uses the thrust stage to advantage, pushing the speakers forward for their star turns and sometimes even bringing them in through the audience [1]. The early scenes were handsome if somewhat bloodless. Then Macbeth and Banquo (Ray Fearon and Jermaine Dominique) exploded on the stage and kicked up the action several notches. Dominique brought wonderful warm turns to his lines, making the early loss of Banquo especially harsh. Fearon and Tara Fitzgerald, as Lady Macbeth, seemed to be mugging for the crowds in their love scene (as one does in a Globe production), but then gave off sparks as they plotted. His soliloquys were splendid and her sleepwalking scene was unexpectedly fresh.

The rest of the cast was strong, actor for actor, and that meant even the most cryptic speeches were always delivered with some kind of local sense. Nadia Albina showed wonderful talent as the Porter, marred by topical deviations (Trump? Not disputing that he’s the devil, but it was more mugging). Elizabeth Andrewartha was not merely credible but constructive in her soldier role, and Kerry Gooderson showed great shape-shifting ability. The three youngish men with beards or stubble who were difficult for the face-blind person to distinguish since they were only on stage together at the end; but that means their performances were also of equivalent quality. Sam Cox’s Duncan was a lordly-looking place holder, which made the idea to remove him more logical; he was also the only greybeard in the thirtysomething-looking cast. He was present in the final tableau in another role (uncredited) together with Freddie Stewart as Malcolm and the youngest actor (also uncredited, and unexplained – he seemed almost to become communal property). Together they created a wordless commentary on succession in this very late Elizabethan moment. This production was long for Shakespeare’s shortest play [2], and yet it managed to end with a bang rather than the usual relief.

The Globe’s Macbeth runs through early October. Thanks to Nely and the Helsinki Shakespeare fans for their choice of production and their company.

[1] I was a groundling which probably boosted the impact of stage-edge acting further. I wholeheartedly recommend standing at the theater if you have the stamina. It concentrates the attention.

[2] There was one intermission, quite late. When the Globe opened, the idea was to have short intermissions after each act, and it might be good to return to that. It would keep the audience awake, distribute the bathroom queue, and make the structure of the play more evident.

Posted on by Diana ben-Aaron
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