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FringeReview UK 2023

Low Down

The strangeness of this Macbeth wraps in those three Witches/Murderers plus Seyton, slowly perambulating their trolleys around. The eerie, in Schmool’s sustained chords, remains. The horror, elsewhere.

Musicians: Composer Osnat Schmool, Musicians Jonathan Andre, Sarah Dacey, Genevieve Dawson, Jakub Rokosz, Rebecca Thorn

Director Abigail Graham, Set Design Ti Green, Seasonal Installation Design Willis, Associate Director Naeem Hayat, Movement Director Jennifer Jackson, Fight & Intimacy Brett Yount

Dramaturg Zoe Svendsen, Shakespeare Consultant Farah Karim-Cooper

Costume Supervisor Anna Dixon, Text Coach Michael Gould,  Globe Associate – Movement Glynn MacDonald, Head of Voice Tess Dignan

Head of Stage Bryan Paterson, Head of Wardrobe Emma Lucy-Hughes, Head of Company Management Marion Marrs, Head of Props Emma Hughes, Stage Manager Carol Pestridge, DSM Sophie Johnson,  ASM Kit Fowler, Casting Becky Paris. Producer Sophie Curtis.

Till October 28th


In Ti Green’s design The Globe’s clad with grey lagging gesturing some post-apocalypse. We’ve been here before in Macbeth, this time directed by Abigail Graham. Six years ago Rufus Norris’ interesting, imperfectly realised scorched-earth NT production had bird-witches shoot up burned telegraph poles.

In radiation suits with verdegris-shaded hawk masks these Three Witches double as the murderers: Calum Callaghan (also a truculent crowd-working Porter) and Ben Caplan (also a grave, gravelly Doctor).

That includes Ferdy Roberts’ Seyton who accompanies the murderers and morphs to a witch. Indeed Roberts’ sinister, implacable Seyton impassively bringing bodies on and off like the others, bodybagged on covered hospital trolleys, is one of the great reinventions.  As is this gender-swap, echoed elsewhere but strategically.

There’s humour in the charm scene. One digs in an eviscerated “kid” on one trolley: a teenager burnt black by decay and chemicals, quarried for fingers and bowels, blended in a smoothie Bullet that goes pink to green in a witty reversal of seas incarnadine, and drunk off.

These Witches prophesy; though like the 2021 Almeida production’s Wyrd Sisters they’re proscribed from agency, they’re more edgy. Summoning rumour and fake news to a degree, the Globe’s Witches steal ahead of upcoming productions of this play.

As so often the music underscores so much of the production’s quality, atmosphere at a premium even as the day blazes. This time it’s a cappella in threnody mode with percussion, as composer Osnat Schmool deploys darker vocal registers.

Musicians Jonathan Andre, Sarah Dacey, Genevieve Dawson, Jakub Rokosz, Rebecca Thorn amplify the action at key points as chorus. Jennifer Jackson’s movement keeps a ritual pulse underpinning occasional surface rapidity, a passacaglia. In a good sense it seems we’ve traversed more time than we have.

Dramaturg Zoe Svendsen writes extensively of othering women, in their displacement from post-feudal power-grabbing and capitalism, specifically the start of enclosures. Specifically, grief and emotion are no use to profit; early or later capitalism, grief’s not allowed. It’s a key to the Macbeths and Macduff. There should be time for such a word. It’s one of the reasons to see this production.

Svendsen ensures the text, even leaner than usual (purged of Middleton’s excresences), is lightly modernised in the Porter’s speech and elsewhere, down to dog-types like “Cocapoos” and ”rottweilers”. And rightly for the theme “fake news spreaders” which earns the Porter’s scorn.

Macbeth’s located in the anti-natural, ego versus natural order, ungrounded rumour versus time to register feeling. Difficult to translate that on a bare stage. Whilst hints of a toxic climate-change seep in, the illusion’s fitful. The flash of evening dress at Duncan’s reception hints at a society not elsewhere present.

It’s to characters we resort for coherence. In Duncan – later Siward – Tamzin Griffin, a smoothly politic stateswoman glides with brittle touches of insincerity. There’s a nice moment when she recalls Ross (Gabby Wong, nearly always the anxious, careworn messenger) to accord Macbeth his new Cawdor title. It suggests Duncan thinks on her feet. But Griffin’s clear: there’s not much nobility in this sharp white suit.

In this Macbeth (Max Bennett) we expect a thrub of nasty. Bennett’s specialised in calculated brattishness since Posh, and he doesn’t disappoint. ”Move!” he brusquely orders groundlings on an early exit. The crowd love it. Bennett’s challenge is not to be a sulky Henry V.

Indeed he strips well, the crowd love that too. How far Bennett plays a weak king is debatable. His petulance in throwing off his very Charles III robes after coronation to yet again display his pecs is at odds with his deeds by this point, more reminiscent of his earlier self.

Vocally – away from distracting gesture – Bennett has the rationale, the clarity, and drawing daggers airborne or real hold no terrors in his lustrous tonality. Though not the pit-fires of damnation he should invoke.

Occasionally though in this fleet two hours 20 traversal including interval, his soliloquies seem a little hurried. He doesn’t draw dark to him, even when summoning Roberts’ magnificent Seyton.

Chemistry with Lady Macbeth (Matti Houghton) is always key. The couple’s mutual attraction works initially, partly because Houghton, if not the most chilling of Lady Macbeths, is surely one of the more active, furious, physically wild on occasion. Not just when she flings her body onto Bennett at their first reunion – Harold Bloom always stated the Macbeths were the happiest couple in Shakespeare.

But in her ferocious admonitions when Bennett – particularly good in this as you’d expect – falters. Houghton’s also full of dispatch at the spectred feast, so violent she has to be restrained when sleepwalking.

Continued harping on others’ progeny is foregrounded. This couple perhaps grieving a child (those revolving gurneys) respond differently. Houghton’s grief at the Macduff household massacre is explosive. It’s no part of her. But the theme’s fulfilled at the end. Macbeth’s jealousy though is highlighted.

Bennett’s good at calibrating Macbeth’s withdrawal from Banquo (Fode Simbo, well-rounded, clear in the scope of his ambition and star-gazing). The moment he does so is beautifully drawn after Banquo’s been showing Fleance (Elijah Sholanke on this occasion, confident, sharp-eyed) a telescope to spy out stars. Bennett’s Macbeth through this scene recognizes he can no longer confide in honest Banquo, and plays chillingly with Fleance.

Macduff (Aaron Anthony) only enters after the murder, instantly impressing. Anthony brings doubt with him, the post-murder scene writhes with tension. You see briefly telegraphed his rapid estrangement from Macbeth, and his guilt. With a callow, not chilling post-Octavian Malcolm (Joseph Payne) there’s more an honest than a politic circling.

Anthony’s great moment comes as he disputes his grief like a man, and repeated calls for Macbeth offstage amplified throughout Act V. Perhaps they take something from the knocking spookiness of the classy, dark Macbeth staged in the Wanamaker in 2018 – knocking at the Porter’s scene is an impressive prophesy of it. Here though Anthony collapses with grief at his family’s murder, and of course guilt. Later, killing Macbeth, everything’s spent.

Lady Macduff (Eleanor Wyld, anger strongly balancing fright) heavily pregnant (as in productions from the early 1980s) is given time to grieve her fate. MacDuff’s Child (Cam’ron Joseph here, winning, not the petulant he’s sometimes egged into being) is allowed badinage to breathe. The child actors are used neatly via trapdoor in the second encounter with the Witches; the Globe’s simplicity is no impediment. I wish more named use could have been made of the active Lucy Reynolds than as Ensemble.

The strangeness of this Macbeth wraps in those three Witches/Murderers plus Seyton, slowly perambulating their trolleys around. The dead are encouraged to collapse decorously on them which doesn’t always avoid comedy.

It’s slightly awkward as Lady Macduff climbs on to join her dead child. It’s strange indeed when having reassured Young Siward (Luke Beggs on this occasion, hopelessly plucky facing the monster) gently, after disarming him, Macbeth breaks his neck then almost laments as he places his body and wraps it on the arriving gurney. And as he climbs board one with his throat slit, the ritual threatens to break down altogether. Luckily Brett Yount’s kept the action intimate, fined to gesture, horrible neck-breaks, slittings.

Ritualised death has featured in recent Shakespeare productions – not least the curiously gentle ending of the Almeida Hamlet of 2017. Here, it’s as if the deaths slow each time, so the grief Macbeth doesn’t allow to blossom weighs in and down. Even Macbeth, with no time to grieve his wife or himself, sinks back into nature.

Whether anything’s been gained is moot. The last couplet’s shorn as often in the Globe; it works here. After this no-one wants to see anyone crowned at Scone. Particularly as Fleance is hoisted up as a future king; this less Machiavellian Malcolm already on notice.

Rightly too, there’s no dance-off, but a sombre requiescat for a country frightened to know itself. That’s not true of this production, and it’s not without ambition. The eerie, in Schmool’s sustained chords, remains. The horror, elsewhere.