The knives came out for Rylance

THE MOMENT WHEN: Mark Rylance did Macbeth (up like a kipper) and the future of the Globe looked shakier than ever. By Paul Taylor

"This must be the worst Macbeth since Peter O'Toole's," snapped the Daily Telegraph, while the Times critic made a pledge to eat the First Folio in its entirety if the next decade were to produce a more ill-conceived version of this tragedy. Mark Rylance's Greenwich Macbeth leapt to instant notoriety on account of shifting the action from feudal Scotland to the world of contemporary cult religion.

I, too, voiced doubts about the wisdom of this new context. But as I continue to reflect on the production, I realise that my quarrel with it was not that it went too far, but that it didn't go far enough. Because of the way it helped clarify my thoughts on the whole vexed issue of updating classic drama, I look back on this piece as a defining moment of my theatre- going year.

"Accessibility" is frequently cited as a justification for relocating plays in the here and now. Fine, provided no one loses sight of the fact that, trapped in our parochial present, we need works of art to remind us how differently life has been, and can be, organised. It's possible, of course, for a director to build an international reputation on a persistent inability to imagine anything other than his own society. Take Peter Sellars's Gulf War version of Aeschylus's The Persians, where Saddam Hussein surfaced as the mixed-up, misunderstood James Dean-figure in a typical, Oedipally dysfunctional American family; or his Venice Beach Merchant of Venice which, with its attempted parallel between the racial prejudice in the play and the LA riots, pulled off the distinctive feat of clouding your thinking on both topics.

Ideally, the converse of this should be the case, the new context and the original play training a sharp, surprising light on each other. Rylance's Macbeth was a patently sincere attempt to find, in a close-knit Krishna- like sect, a parallel contemporary setting in which there's a strict hierarchy and where people, believing in weird prophecies and crazy divinations, act swiftly and violently to accomplish them. What was disappointing was the practical application. Too many opportunities were missed for radicalising our view of Macbeth and questioning what we take for granted in it.

An example of this would be the treatment of the hero's victim, the supposedly saintly King Duncan. If Rylance had shown this figure presiding over a brainwashed, claustrophobic sect, then it would have exposed how, in Shakespeare's tragedy, the mystique of the monarchy allows Duncan to enjoy a reputation for meekness while also exercising power that depends on violence and warfare. It would also have enabled Rylance to present the effect of Macbeth's actions as perversely beneficial, the murderous change of guru and the new paranoiac tyranny waking up and politicising a hitherto credulous and submissive community. But the Duncan here was just a sweetish vague personality who, on arriving as a houseguest, presented Lady Macbeth with the thoughtful gift of a bunch of bananas.

It's true that the image of Hecate as a drag lollipop lady and of Jane Horrocks's Lady Macbeth wetting herself in the sleepwalking scene are memories that I will carry with me, somewhat less than gratefully, to the grave. But whereas the production prompted some commentators to write pre-emptive obituaries of Rylance's artistic directorship of the rebuilt Globe Theatre - "If [he] offers work like this, we can look forward to a fiasco of monumental proportions" - it made me anticipate more excitedly a project for which beforehand I could muster little enthusiasm. Full of vision and audacity, if a trifle lacking in sustained thought, his Macbeth suggests that the last thing Rylance's Globe will be is a Shakespeare museum.

n Tomorrow: Chris Peachment on the moment when British film was given its head

Arts and Entertainment
Kristin Scott Thomas outside the Royal Opera House before the ceremony (Getty)
film
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Channel 4's Indian Summers
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West found himself at the centre of a critical storm over the weekend after he apparently claimed to be “the next Mandela” during a radio interview
music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig and Rory Kinnear film Spectre in London
film
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003
    Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

    Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

    Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

    Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
    Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

    Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

    Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
    New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

    Dinner through the decades

    A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
    Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

    Philippa Perry interview

    The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

    Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

    Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
    Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

    Harry Kane interview

    The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?