It's that time of the year when the weather plays a more important role than actors or even directors in determining the outcome of some theatrical productions. It's the start of the new season at the Globe (or 'Glob' as pronounced by a tourist outside the theatre). This year, the Globe's season is entitled 'Kings and Rogues' and first up in the series is the ever-popular 'Macbeth'.
Once again, the Globe shows it's prepared to take risks and Lucy Bailey is at the helm directing in something of a macabre style with plenty of blood and guts on offer. But then Ms Bailey is no stranger to gore having been in charge of the infamous, yet excellent 'Titus Andonicus' a few years ago.
The theme for this production is Dante's Inferno and, in particular, the ninth circle of hell which is the repository for those who have committed acts of betrayal. This is more than apt in the case of Macbeth who manages to accumulate quite a catalogue of betrayals. First, he kills his King who is also a guest in his house. He then has one of his comrades murdered as well as the wife and children of another. And, of course, he betrays his country by murdering the King and taking the throne.
Two innovations dominate the theatre symbolising the circles of hell from the Inferno. Two huge rings have been set above the stage, overhanging the yard. In the end, they only served as rather overgrown curtain rails – perhaps we're going to see more of them in other productions, though. And, second, the audience in the yard have been recruited as members of the ninth circle of hell in which people who've committed acts of betrayal are incarcerated in ice. I won't spoil the effect by describing in detail just what it entails for those of you who decide to watch the play from the yard, but it's a fun experience. Moreover, it provides the cast with ample opportunities to 'interact' with the audience, even before the play begins.
Elliot Cowan is Macbeth and Laura Rogers his pretty and vivacious young wife. Cowan has all the necessary physical qualities to convince of his prowess as a fighter even if his vocal delivery was rather quiet at times. Both Cowan and Ms Rogers produce well-crafted and solid performances which don't quite make it into the exceptional league. Excellent support is on hand from James Clyde as King Duncan and Christian Bradley as Banquo.
I've seen all kinds of variations in terms of the witches, but here at least we have three. Well, that could in fact be reduced to 2.5 as one of the weird sisters, Karen Anderson, is a self-styled 'little person' who manages to be charming whilst working through her evil agenda with relish. But the real star of the show turns out to be Frank Scantori who plays the porter of Macbeth's castle and gives us a grotesque, but immensely humorous performance thanks to his physical stature combined with staggeringly fine timing. And if all that wasn't enough, he also delivered his lines impeccably. Quite a performance!
The weather was kind on this occasion until the very last moments when the cast – as is now customary at the Globe – were performing their end-of-play dance. A nasty, doom-laden shower broke out which, though it may have complemented the hellish mood of the play, also dampened our spirits a smidgen.
'Macbeth' certainly sets a great standard for the Globe's new season, leaving us longing for more. The play is grounded on detailed research which gives it real authority and a believable structure. But, Given a choice between 'Macbeth' and Ms Bailey's earlier production, 'Titus Andonicus', I think I'd have to chose the latter, but probably only by a nose – or half a diminutive witch, whichever is the shorter. Comparisons aside, 'Macbeth' is entertaining as well as hugely enjoyable, even if it might be a little too gory for some – with at least one fainter in the audience last night, the real question will be what the 'body count' will be during the run!
"Lucy Bailey’s production of Macbeth is startlingly gory. Blood and violence are everywhere..This is a production full of nice touches. It’s at times disturbing, and a couple of scenes are very funny...We’re entertained, but not mesmerised."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard
"As a vision, it works rather well...But at times, Bailey's interpretation tips over into surreal bad taste, evoking laughter at pivotal moments which mars the tension..."
Julie Carpenter for The Express
"It is playful, original and powerful."
Sarah Hemming for The Financial Times
"A mish-mash: a production full of ideas but so focused on spectacle, much of it resulting from Javier de Frutos's orchestrated movement, that Shakespeare's most compact tragedy is stretched to more than three hours."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"This Macbeth will be remembered as an enjoyably gory curiosity rather than a deeply felt human tragedy."
Charles Spencer for The Daily Telegraph