Next up in the Globe's 'Season of Plenty' programme is this version of Shakespeare's bloody tragedy of a king's demise, and the rise of a dictatorial replacement who is controlled as much by fate as by his own fallibility. Eve Best takes the helm in her directorial debut, and with Joseph Millson as an axe-toting Macbeth and a fiery Samantha Spiro as his wife, this is a powerful and tense production which fits the bill nicely for the mid point in this year's Globe season.
Macbeth is a tough soldier and a hugely successful one if the admiration of his King is anything to go by. In fact, Gawn Grainger's King Duncan is so impressed with Macbeth's ability in the soldiering department that he promotes him, making him Thane of Cawdor. When Macbeth hears about his elevation, it rings deafening bells in his soldierly ears. And that's because his new status was predicted by three witches he bumped into early on in the play.
When the the new Thane gets back to his home patch, Mrs macbeth proves that she has a fighting spirit equal to that of her husband, if not more so. And she envisages a golden opportunity for her hubbie to have rather more than simply a nice new locale to profit from – she sees Macbeth as king, and has a cunning plan to acquire the crown. Well, it is not so much a cunning plan as a pretty simple and brutal one: to kill King Duncan while he is staying at the Macbeths' castle home in Inverness.
Joseph Millson makes a striking and imposing Macbeth. Slender and tall with black hair and a black beard, which lends a darker note to the character, he is totally convincing as a fighting man, especially as he has two lethal-looking axes dangling from his belt. Violence seems engrained in his nature - at one point, he even looks as though he is about to throttle his wife. And there's more than a hint in Mr Millson's finely-crafted description that Macbeth is, even at the start of the play, a man with more than a glimmer of the manic about him, or that he is at the very least psychologically fragile. The husband and wife team of murderers is completed with Samantha Spiro's impassioned Lady Macbeth who begs the spirits to 'unsex' her so she can do the necessaries in despatching the King, fearing Macbeth himself is “too full o' th' milk of human kindness”. In spite of her fervent desire to acquire the top job for her husband, Ms Spiro also demonstrates a more humorous side when she says “You have displaced the mirth” after Macbeth disrupts a gathering of nobles when he sees the ghost of Banquo. The audience loved that.
In the minor roles, Bette Bourne also provides considerable mirth as the droll 'knock-knock' porter, dressed in a fancy red gown and a colour-matched nose. As for the witches, I've seen various contrivances of them over the years, sometimes as a threesome and once combined into a single entity. Here, we get the full complement of three 'weird sisters', but they don't seem nearly so weird or unnerving as I have seen on other occasions.
I'm sorry to say that I find bagpipes an acquired taste that I have never managed to acquire, in spite of some perseverance. But the Globe has a strong and credible tradition of bringing us a variety of instruments to deliver the musical accompaniment and the bagpipes seem more than fitting and wholly appropriate for the Scottish Play. Along with trumpets, violins and a range of percussion instruments, we are treated to some tensely atmospheric music - in fact some of the best I have heard at this venue – and, believe me, the standard is always high. And that musical icing on a finely-tuned dramatic cake tops-off a highly effective production which Eve Best should be well-satisfied with.
"Superb fresh-minted performances of Joseph Millson and Samantha Spiro as the Macbeths...this is a cracking directorial debut by [Eve] Best – though I hope she will soon be back on stage herself. "
Charles Spencer for The Daily Telegraph
"Joseph Millson plays the title role. He has a brooding, handsome physicality...He captures Macbeth’s psychological unravelling, and is at his strongest in his moments of quiet introspection rather than when prowling the stage wildly...A decent but not revelatory first outing for [Eve] Best as a director."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard
"Marks the directorial debut of actor Eve Best, and which is marred only by her tendency to search out unexpected comedy in Shakespeare's sombre tragedy...For the most part Joseph Millson offers a decent, bluff, soldierly Macbeth, but one slightly deficient in feverish imagination."
Michael Billington for The Guardian