From its blood-soaked beginnings it is obvious that this Macbeth, the first production of Shakespeare’s Globe’s 2010 season, will not shy away from the gory realities of the Bard’s murderous masterpiece.
It is always a treat to see how director Lucy Bailey will attack a Globe production. Her Titus Andronicus used a canopy to darken the roofless theatre, while her Timon Of Athens featured performers suspended above the groundlings. Macbeth again features design new to the traditionally-built theatre, with some audience members in the pit able to push their heads up through a dark cloth that covers around half of the standing theatregoers.
The programme notes explain that this design is inspired by the Gustave Doré illustrations of Dante’s Divine Comedy. They are representations of hell, and this is a hellish production indeed. Even before the remnants of a bloody battle bring the show to life, the weird sisters, disturbingly otherworldly, taunt the audience, while porter Frank Scantori lumbers and lurches grotesquely – and this is meant in the nicest and most congratulatory way – around the stage. With a bell tolling in the background, it is as if Quasimodo has taken a break from Notre Dame and come on holiday in Scotland.
He would have been better going to Barbados, because this Scotland is a dark, brooding place. Designer Katrina Lindsay has wrapped the stage in an all-engulfing blackness, blood-spattered faces are everyday occurrences and fiends seem borne from hell itself to torment and tempt Macbeth.
This is not the psychological Macbeth which Cheek By Jowl presented earlier in the year. Here the weird sisters are very real, always lurking, appearing and disappearing, orchestrating Macbeth’s downfall. Macbeth, in the form of Elliot Cowan, is an imposing, muscular leader of men, earnestly true to his King until his ambitious slinky wife (Laura Rogers), taunts him into becoming a monster. It is when she realises the fiend he has become that her frailty begins to emerge.
Hell, darkness, audiences oppressed by the show’s design; it could all get too much were it not for the fact that Bailey revels in delivering these blood-thirsty productions and brings release in the most fabulously disgusting of ways. Scantori nearly steals the show with the most hideous of clowning bucket routines during the porter’s scene, and never has Macbeth’s stricken assertion that “blood will have blood” been more appropriate. It will, and in many a revolting, intoxicating way.