Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare's Globe
It’s dark, the Scottish play, and Robert Hastie’s production in the candlelit Sam Wanamaker Playhouse makes it even darker for it blows most of them out. Black-clad figures in the darkness draw straws to become witches, running feet and rapping on walls is heard in the corridors around the theatre and ethereal voices sing in a strange tongue accompanied by tinkling chimes.
It is a fairly straightforward production of this play about prophecy, ambition, multiple murder and heavy guilt. Though Macbeth is first described as a violent warrior, when he is not soldiering he is much more uneasy. When the witches predict his rise in rank and then kingship, Paul Ready makes sure that we hear his first reaction as being to murder but he rapidly wishes it may be avoided and his later guilt pursues him to near total breakdown when faced by a sudden apparition with gaping wounds.
Michelle Terry’s Lady Macbeth establishes her reaction just as decisively. As she reads her husband’s letter about the prophecy, she stops abruptly at “King that shalt be…”—we almost see the murderous thought before she repeats, “Shalt be”. She seems to be a woman who fell for the tough soldier image and now drives him on though irritated by his increasing impishness until she too cracks with guilt.
Casting is boldly gender blind, most noticeably with Anna-Maria Nabirye’s strong Macduff (she is also the “bloody sergeant” who reports Macbeth’s battle exploits). Joseph Marcell is an elderly authoritarian King Duncan, doubled with the comic Porter who doesn’t overplay his bawdy. Surprisingly, some in the lower part of the house found humour elsewhere, though from an upper level there seemed no reason for laughter, but despite the proximity in this lovely theatre, a different seat can give a different experience, especially when lighting is as low as it often is in this production.
This is a clear telling of the story creating its own murky atmosphere but brings no special insights.