William Shakespeare
Shakespeare's Globe
Shakespeare's Globe

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Max Bennett as Macbeth Credit: Johan Persson
Ben Caplan as Witch and Max Bennett as Macbeth Credit: Johan Persson
Matti Houghton as Lady Macbeth Credit: Johan Persson
Elijah Sholanke as Fleance and Fode Simbo as Banque Credit: Johan Persson
Max Bennett as Macbeth with the Witches Credit: Johan Persson
Max Bennett as Macbeth Credit: Johan Persson

Director Abigail Graham prefaces her fast-moving, modern-dress production of Macbeth with a black-garbed, a capella chorus and the entry of its leading characters, Lady Macbeth carrying a baby: it is a production in which the persistent presence of children will emphasise that the Macbeths are now childless.

The three witches stride on in white hazmat suits and grotesque masks like those of plague doctors. They remove them to reveal the human faces of those who also become Macbeth’s servants, porter, doctor and hired assassins. The witches will set things in motion and the stage empties leaving Duncan (Tamzin Griffin, now Queen, not King, of Scotland), to whom a wounded soldier brings news of victory against rebels and the military prowess of Macbeth.

Designer Ti Green has wrapped the Globe’s columns and its resplendent scena in crumpled, blue-grey cloth lest they distract with their colour but adds a silvered tree bough, a ghostly kind of image for the wood that will become part of Macbeth’s downfall.

Max Bennett’s Macbeth is a man thrown off-key by the witches’ prediction of his elevation and future kingship. He has little opportunity to show the loyal soldier and man of honour before “vaulting ambition” feeds his actions, but after the killing of Duncan becomes the first of his murders, he is haunted by what he has done. When Matti Houghton’s hectoring Lady Macbeth (Matti Houghton) is not there to goad him, he is restlessly agitated with recurrent visions of his victims whom the witches wheel before him on hospital gurneys.

The witches (Calum Callaghan, Ben Caplan and Ferdy Roberts) at times seem almost gleeful, can even raise a laugh, but their presence is equivocal. Are they controlling the characters they appear as unmasked or are they assuming human faces to do Macbeth’s dirty work, even mopping up its spilled blood?

There is no trickery or sleight of hand in this production. When the post-coronation banquet is brought in, alongside the roast boar lies the murdered Banquo. The witches mix their potions in food blenders from ingredients sourced in a rotting corpse that now include “coke-head’s nose, and filler’d lips”, and the apparitions delivering their predictions to Macbeth are the children he has had murdered.

There is a little tinkering with the text, replacing archaic forms of dog with modern breeds, while a more obvious reference to the Macbeths’ child and some rather pointless rewrites of the Porter’s monologue and several cut characters’ lines are given to Ross (Gabby Wong).

Bennett is a clearly spoken Macbeth who carries his thoughts through completely, unlike some of his colleagues who end-stop lines too strongly or lack projection, but it is not until his wife’s death and his mind is affected that he begins to involve us, and by then, the production has already begun to take off with strong playing from Joseph Payne’s Malcolm and Aaron Anthony’s Macduff.

Siward’s son, who confronts Macbeth before Macduff meets him, is here played as a mere boy, emphasising the importance the production places on the younger generation. He and all the juvenile actors do themselves get credit.

It is in these later scenes that this production really comes to life, helping it earn a rapturous reception from a packed audience on press night.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

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