at Shakespeare’s Globe, Tuesday 4th May 2010
There is something rotten in the state of Scotland. Food rots. Flesh rots. Society rots. As Malcolm says, “I think our country sinks beneath the yoke: It weeps, it bleeds, and each new day a gash Is added to her wounds.” Macbeth is the closest we come in Shakespeare to a full-blown thriller, and Lucy Bailey’s new production at the Globe sets out to prove exactly this. Blood spews out all over the floor as we are reminded how soon a society can break down.
The main idea on show here is that hell can easily creep into the real world. The three weird sisters, present on stage for much of the three hours playing time and thus acting as the perpetrators of the story, always appear from the bowels of the theatre. Bloodied bodies gasp for air from trapdoors and grasp at thin air. These images echo those in slasher films, and in many ways Bailey’s production is just as nail-biting as the horror movies we all know and love.
Sound plays a prominent role in the piece, and Orlando Gough’s score hears bagpipes, horns and trombones screech away layers of contrapuntal textures. Music strikes up suddenly at moments of high tension and as the pipes wail away we can’t help but think that this society is crumbling.
Heads poke out from a black cloth covering the yard, and these protrusions of the uppermost part of the groundlings’ bodies frame the entire production. Floating eerily but also strangely fixed, they frame the stage and the play itself. Whilst they surround the stage they also symbolise the gruesome battles at each end of the narrative. The stark blackness of Katrina Lindsay’s design is vivid and dark even before Macbeth takes control. The bodies of the dead enter and exit just as frequently as the live characters.
Whilst the physicality and design of this production are extremely savage, the performances of some of the central characters leave much to be desired. Weakest is Laura Rogers’ Lady Macbeth, who has none of the decisiveness and cunning that Shakespeare’s strongest female character needs to be successful, and the performance is far too considered. Moments after asking the gods to “unsex” her, she throws herself inexplicably at her husband and her decent into madness is simply unconvincing.
Elliot Cowan’s Macbeth also lacks the status that is required in order to be King material, and in the first half of the play it is hard to believe there is any motive for Macbeth’s actions at all. Cowan manages to turn the tables later in the play, however, and really comes into his own as Macbeth himself loses the will to live.
It is clear that Bailey’s production sets out to be a thriller. There is no doubt that this is the case, especially in scenes involving death, but at far too many points in the play the pace drops to points which seem to be within the very Hell Macbeth’s Scotland is trying to save itself from. The interpretation itself has no faults, but without a constant feeling of doom we cannot feel empathy for many of the characters.