Macbeth - Shakespeare's Globe Theatre (UK)
Written by William Shakespeare. Directed by Abigail Graham.
Reviewed by Justin Clarke
Shakespeare’s Globe, Southbank
31st August - 28th October
- Focusing on the children in the world of the Macbeth's, The Globe Theatre's summer production has a lot of moving parts with discordant results -
With the changing of Monarchs in Britain, an uneasy Government recently caught in lies and scandals, and a country still reeling from the spread of disease, it seems that William Shakespeare’s Macbeth is doing the rounds in 2023. The Globe Theatre’s summer season show of Abigail Graham’s Macbeth is but one of many to come to London this year, with others featuring notable names such as Ralph Fiennes and David Tennant taking on the role of the corrupt King. With each version of Macbeth comes the director’s own vision of how to place Shakespeare’s tale of corruption, ambition and regicide against the backdrop of a supernatural presence. Graham’s take has an abundance of ideas on which she desires to play, it doesn’t all work however, giving audiences a watered down king who is more murderous politician than mad titan. What does linger in the brain is the focus on children and succession.
The cast of Macbeth at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, 2023. Photos by Johan Persson.
Graham’s production chooses to hone in on the absence of a child in the Macbeth’s relationship. Matti Houghton’s Lady Macbeth holds a child’s shawl to her chest amidst a haunting prologue of choral chanting. Throughout, we see the Macduff’s with their child, his Spiderman obsession draped on his body. With a change from King to Queen Duncan, Tamzin Griffin presents a much more affectionate relationship with her son, Malcolm (Joseph Payne). Even the minor character Siward stands with his young child on stage.
With Shakespeare himself having experienced the loss of a child, the subtleties are drawn through the Macbeth’s dialogue. With Lady Macbeth stating she “hath given suck, and know how tender 'tis to love the babe that milks” her, Max Bennet’s Macbeth reels in horror at the graphic comparison given by his wife when threatening to break his promise to commit regicide. This production suggests a sense of jealousy surrounding the Macbeth’s at the children still standing around them, and almost, almost, a sense of understanding for their madness.
Bennet’s Macbeth seems promising at first, entering amidst a Scotland at war, dressed in black cavalier body armour, his friendship with Fode Simbo’s extremely likeable Banquo immediately established. But there is not much more depth to Macbeth’s character throughout. Bennet has a handle on bringing some madcap humour to Macbeth’s lines, but as he is quite literally stripped bare at the end, we see he is nothing more than a man. This is where Bennet shines, although the depth of our care wanes as we arrive to this point.
As Lady Macbeth, Houghton gives screams that will chill the bone as she attempts to scrub out that damned spot. Again, the development to get us to this point just didn’t allow us to care. With so much else going on in the production, the two main characters on which the show is founded falls by the wayside.
The eerieness of the Macbeth's world is at times electric, at times thought provoking, and mostly focused on the youth in Shakespeare's worlds.
Anna Dixon’s costumes are modern, with black tie suits worn at the Macbeth’s castle, elegant gowns given to Queen Duncan, and a coronation attire extraordinarily resonant to that of King Charles III worn by Macbeth as he succeeds in becoming King - make of that what you will. The modernity and eloquence of the costumes stands out against Ti Green’s design for the set, with the colour and vibrancy of the Globe Theatre stage taken away and wrapped in grey. In the heavens is raised a gnarled branch of silver, placing us in the woods of Scotland, but not doing much else for the production itself.
Perhaps the largest change in this production, and what that requires reading into, is the change of the witches into three cackling brothers. Dressed in hazmat suits, wheeling on and off morgue trolleys with hidden bodies, they wear masks similar to those of Plague Doctors each time Macbeth enters. The cauldron scene in the second act is played for effective laughs from the crowd as they make a human soup from a decomposed corpse. Ferdy Roberts, Calum Callaghan and Ben Caplan also play the other minor roles surrounding the plot of Macbeth, which begs the question whether the brothers are supernatural or in the world itself. Apart from visually showing the body count from Macbeth’s ambition, their role is never quite answered efficiently.
The Globe Theatre’s summer production of Macbeth may not entirely reinvent and excite in the way we view Shakespeare’s gothic tale, but there are plenty of fresh takes here that have the potential to captivate audiences. The eerieness of the Macbeth's world is at times electric, at times thought provoking, and mostly focused on the youth in Shakespeare's worlds. If the entirely packed in crowd is anything to go by, The Bard’s work still has plenty of life left to give.
William Shakespeare's Macbeth
Globe Theatre, London
Galleries (Seating) £65 – £25
Standing £10, £5
Hundreds of £5 tickets for every performance, hundreds more at £10. Book early for the best prices.
Aaron Anthony MACDUFF
Luke Beggs YOUNG SIWARD
Max Bennett MACBETH
Calum Callaghan WITCH / PORTER / MURDERER
Ben Caplan WITCH / DOCTOR / MURDERER
Timothy Daniel FLEANCE
Max Ellis YOUNG SIWARD
Tamzin Griffin DUNCAN / SIWARD
Matti Houghton LADY MACBETH
Cam'ron Joseph MACDUFF'S CHILD
Joseph Payne MALCOLM
Arno Perry MACDUFF'S CHILD
Lucy Reynolds ENSEMBLE
Ferdy Roberts WITCH / SEYTON
Elijah Sholanke FLEANCE
Fode Simbo BANQUO
Gabby Wong ROSS
Eleanor Wyld LADY MACDUFF
Musician Jonathan Andre
Musician Sarah Dacey
Musician Genevieve Dawson
Musician Jakub Rokosz
Musician Rebecca Thorn
Associate Director Naeem Hayat
Casting Director Becky Paris
Composer Osnat Schmool
Costume Supervisor Anna Dixon
Designer Ti Green
Director Abigail Graham
Dramaturg Zoë Svendsen
Fight Director Bret Yount
Globe Associate – Movement Glynn MacDonald
Movement Director Jennifer Jackson
Text Coach Michael Gould
Voice Coach Claudette Williams
Wellbeing Practitioner Carol Cumberbatch