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Theatre review: Macbeth, Shakespeare's Globe


Eve Best made her first appearance at Shakespeare's Globe as Lady Macbeth some twelve years ago in a studiedly abstract, black-tie production that won few fans.  

The esteemed classical actress and retired veteran of five series of TV's Nurse Betty now makes her directorial debut at the venue in what one would describe as a much more traditional, Jacobean-dress production of the play, if it weren't for the fact that her revival has the curious distinction of being by far the most spiritedly rib-tickling version of this blackest of tragedies that one has ever seen.

It's true that there's grim gallows humour in the play and I thought that the production was onto something worthwhile at the start when Joseph Millson's Macbeth and Billy Boyd’s Banquo react to the witches' prophecies by doubling up in a minute's worth of helplessly incredulous laughter.  Perhaps this was a case of the protagonist using hysterical mirth as a cover for a genuinely unnerved response.  It turns out, alas, that the episode sets the tone of what follows in quite the wrong way.  This is a production that arouses laughter but does not then make it stick in the throat.

For example, the banquet scene has, to be sure, a hideous comic potential in its excruciating and guilt-exposing social embarrassment but this is reduced here to genially frantic farce, with Macbeth peering under the table cloth for the ghost as though he were Ford seeking to ferret out Falstaff. Millson is a handsome, commanding protagonist and he delivers the verse with a lucid intelligence, but, until the last act, there's too little stillness or sense of the hero's tortured inner world in this restless, over-demonstrative performance which even sees him Macbeth at the groundlings to “Kiss my ring! Kiss my ring!” once he is monarch with an effect that's more panto than chilling political intimidation.

As Lady Macbeth, Samantha Spiro progresses forcefully from ambitious bundle-of-energy to hectoring termagant to imploded wreck but the tragic deterioration of her marriage is crudely signalled – as when a gesture of intimacy turns into an unconscious near-throttling of his spouse as Macbeth gets lost in the “Come, seeling night” speech.  A balmy summer evening in an outdoor theatre does not, perhaps, provide the ideal setting for a tale of murky horrors but what atmosphere the production does possess is mainly thanks to Olly Fox's stirring score which begins with a ferociously martial bagpipe-and-drums overture, involving the entire cast, and ends with one of the witches playing a haunting violin lament.  In between, a Macbeth with more jocular laughs than you could shake a caber at.    

To Oct 13; 020 7401 9919