Runs until 1st October 2016

Last night we strolled down the South Bank as the clocks came close to striking twelve to enjoy the Globe’s Midnight Matinee of Macbeth. Unfortunately this was not to be – although that’s not to say we didn’t endure the performance.

Iqbal Khan’s production was one that leapt from tedium to frustration, making slight of anything it posed. Be it the costumes, which ranged from articulated leather armour to present day military uniform, the baffling array of interpretations scattered throughout, or the confused attempts at human emotion, little to no part of Macbeth was enjoyable.

The Globe’s synopsis of the play declares ‘on a barren heath, three sisters tell the great and bloodied Macbeth that he is fated to be King of Scotland’. You may well understand our confusion when four witches appeared on stage, and constructed a bizarre puppet of scattered limbs with which they still asked the infamous ‘when shall we three meet again?’ However, attempting to decipher any of that image was far from the biggest problem, rather the near impossible task of understanding a single word the witches said drew most energy. It had been decided that they would sing their lines in some sort of ethereal, Celtic-style hymn, but instead of lending a gothic tone to the show, it created (to paraphrase our own Louis Chilton) an achingly cacophonous wall of noise that only distracted. This provided confusion enough to prevent us even attempting to understand the avant-garde puppet show that accompanied it.

“the play lived up to its title of tragedy, though not in the way many would hope”

Macbeth (Ray Fearon) apparently understood emotion as volume, a dramatic choice which only resulted in a sigh each time he came to stage, as we anticipated once more being shouted at in an attempt to convey his guilt/fear/anger/sadness/joy. Perhaps he thought if he cried loud enough, we would be forced to hear his pain. Lady Macbeth is arguably one of Shakespeare’s most powerful female characters, yet Tara Fitzgerald failed to hit the mark. Next to Fearon’s overzealous pronunciations of the poetry, her Pinter-esque naturalism read as flat and unbelievable, sounding more as though she was reciting the lines than delivering them.

Both characters have some pretty famous soliloquys in this play, and both actors seemed to shirk at the task. Fearon’s attempt at ‘tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow’ was one of the few occasions he broke from shouting at us, but this didn’t result in a happier reaction. The speech ranks among one of the most outstanding examples of chewing the scenery that either of us have witnessed. Fitzgerald’s ‘out, damned spot’ fared no better, as she rather bizarrely waddled onto the stage, only to be shouted at by a couple of mechanicals whilst we all waited for the three of them to finish – one of the only consistent themes of the play.

Various members of the supporting cast were either completely forgettable or are now unbearably etched in our memories. These ranged from the porter’s speech clutching desperately at topical references as they lazily banded out Trump jokes, to name but one of the tediously cheap attempts at humour, only to be overshadowed by what was effectively a ‘your mama’ joke that followed its conclusion, to a rather bizarrely costumed chorus reminiscent of Dr. Strangelove. Nothing was as much a relief as Lady Macduff and her ‘babe’ being killed, not only a marker the conclusion of the play was drawing near, but thankfully, it forced them off stage.

However, this is not to say Macbeth was an unredeemable mess of three hours we’ll never get back. There were glimpses of hope scattered throughout – most notable being Jermaine Dominique as Banquo, who single-handedly kept the whole event afloat. His charisma was enough to raise the quality of the other actors in the few scenes he was in, and his absence in the second half was noticeably felt. The Macbeths even managed to demonstrate an ability which the rest of their performance belied during the apparition of Banquo’s ghost. This was the only point of the play that addressed the mental illness issues so ingrained in Macbeth, and they, albeit for less than five minutes, produced a convincing representation of what these can look like. Khan’s interpretation itself even had a couple of saving graces: the witches crowning the Macbeths was a nice touch, as was the breaking down of the thrones following Banquo’s murder.

Knowing this was part of a series of Emma Rice’s debut as artistic director of the Globe was an exciting prospect. As fans of both Kneehigh and the Globe, we had hoped for the frenetic joy and energy of the former to be brought to the esteem of the latter. Sadly, we were let down, although that’s not to say we aren’t hopeful for the rest of the season. Each of the principals, at one point, demonstrated that they were indeed able to act, which must leave the blame solely at Khan’s feet, who seemingly drilled it out of them during the rehearsal process. In all, Macbeth was a hugely frustrating ordeal – the play lived up to its title of tragedy, though not in the way many would hope.

James Baxter-Derrington & Maddie Andrews @Mads_Andrews


Image: Shakespeare’s Globe 2016

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