Macbeth. As far as proper nouns go, none can convey visions of blood, violence, madness, and death tinged with universal themes of ambition, loyalty, and greed as much as this. Eve Best’s directorial debut fulfils much, if not all of the expected. There is something about seeing Shakespeare performed at The Globe. Walking to the arena, the external white walls, the open thatched roof, and then during the play, the crowd interaction, and the balcony appearances – they all pay homage in their own way to the days of yesteryear and not even the occasional buzzing of helicopters overhead can diminish the joy of witnessing one of Shakespeare’s most macabre tragedies in the replicated heart and home of his works.
The story and it’s themes itself need not much explaining – ambition to a young mans mind, his wife the more so; and the accompanying greed that leads them down a path not so much half trodden as much as it is laced with treason and regret. The loss to one man, of not only leadership, but virtues, honour, friends turned mistakenly foes, and finally love, (in a suicide that speaks volumes given that Will did not even want it seen), sees a collective of dead personnel at the finale, that would see the price of marble at the local quarry sky rocket.
The director is competently supported by a cast that strives to reach a level of expectation, Joseph Millson as Macbeth provides an undistinguished but under achieving performance as the Scottish Thane-turned-King. No doubt revelling in the lead of one of the finest characters to take the stage, many scenes could have utilised relaxation and pause to greater effect, as he seemed to rush through the lines as though reciting them with stagnant intonation and tone. The shorter sentence structure seemed to suit best, most notably when personable or changing tone in a scene, performing best for example when either dismissing the Porter, or telling Macduff, indeed it ‘Twas a rough night.’ Lighter moments for the audience to take in, but it left one wondering what might have been had the same focus been delivered more often.
Billy Boyd and Stuart Bowman, as Banquo and Macduff respectively, supported proficiently, putting in performances that engendered the audience to watch them increasingly more closely whenever they entered. Billy Boyd, most famous for his turn as a Hobbit in a famous trilogy, was as powerful speaking in death with his ‘Ghost of Banquo’ torturing Macbeth at dinner with presence and posture as much as he was when alive and speaking.
Without doubt though, the standout performance from Samantha Spiro as Lady Macbeth was something to behold. Capturing the stage and attention with every spoken word, her immaculate knowledge of the text and her characters emotions, was matched, if not exceeded by her ability to convey such feelings and intentions to the audience. Her well timed pauses, allowed an audience, some unfamiliar with the writing, to immerse in her words, and feel them. To understand them. The varying time lengths with which she utilised this helped colour the overarching background of her scenes whether it be a manic rush as the King lay dead and Macbeth questions whether to turn himself in, or her enveloping madness as her actions feed on her soul.
Just as audiences today enjoy sitting back at the cinemas and watching elaborate fight scenes or car chases through cobbled streets, Shakespeare’s contemporaries were enthralled by swordfight and violence every bit as well. Kevin McCurdy has done a great job of choreographing the fight scenes in this production, the climactic skirmish between Macbeth and Macduff providing the most entertaining of movements. The axes used are certainly not plastic, and as one friend mentioned after the show, should one of the actors veer left instead of right, ‘it would certainly hurt’.
If the text of a play is it’s canvass, the players the brushstrokes, and set design the architecture, the accompanying music employed by Olly Fox helped colour the palette and convey varying emotions whether it be the sweetness of victory, or forthcoming trepidation. Often used to supplement the action below, the music used was relevant and engaging, highlighted by the opening and closing scenes – a troupe of actors beating drums in inspiring rhythms, or a solo violinist closing the play with the sad, slow strings of dancing death.
To be sure, Shakespeare’s Globe has seen many productions of Macbeth. Every season its boards are trod by actors that no doubt dream what it was like to perform in front of kings, queens and peasants. The success of such plays, and indeed Shakespeare itself, is to bring that dream and vision to life, and translate for a modern audience. Eve Best’s production of Macbeth certainly does that, as the play crescendos in pace and quality the more it unfolds before us. Seeing Shakespeare at The Globe, is to witness Shakespeare as it was – under an open sky and a thatched roof, with actors that can translate the old into new, and bring to life characters some 400 years old that still tantalise and entertain us – Macbeth certainly does that.