Shakespeare’s Globe kicks off their Winter season in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse with the famously bloodthirsty tale of a Scottish king’s quest for power. Directed by Robert Hastie, the production stars Paul Ready in the title role, with Michelle Terry as Lady Macbeth. Here are some reasons to see this Shakespeare classic, which is running until 2 February 2019
Playing with fire
The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is famously candlelit, giving the intimate venue an atmosphere that Shakespeare himself would be familiar with. The dramatic potency of a naked flame is effectively harnessed in this Macbeth, with fluctuations in flickering light – from a warm, blazing banquet scene to a single, feeble flame held close to our tragic antihero’s face as he confronts the ‘weird sisters’ – directing the audience’s attention and playing with your conception of the space. And the candles sometimes cause dramatic tension that has nothing to do with the plot – will Macbeth’s single candle be accidentally blown out during an impassioned monologue, plunging us into darkness!? (not during my visit, fortunately!)
The power couple
Paul Ready plays Macbeth alongside his real-life partner (and the Globe’s Artistic Director) Michelle Terry as Lady Macbeth. Both give grippingly intense, tortured performances, and the chemistry between them fizzes throughout – even allowing for a couple of moments of comic bickering which would almost make them a relatable couple – if not for their murderous plotting…
Laura Moody’s score is performed by three female singers on a balcony above the stage, looking down on the action almost like echoes of the three witches. The music is sung in Enochian, the strange ‘angelic’ language invented by 16th-century astronomer, alchemist and occultist John Dee, and swings between eerie Medieval-style polyphony and earthier, folkish chanting and foot stamping. Occasionally the music gives way to whisperings and hissings, which – combined with disembodied creaks and knockings that seem to emanate from every side of the Playhouse – are slightly spine chilling.
It probably goes without saying – it is Shakespeare after all – but the language of Macbeth is often shockingly vivid and contemporary, from Lady Macbeth’s rallying cry to her own ruthlessness as she plots a murder, to Macduff’s heart-breaking disbelief on hearing terrible news about his family’s fate – and even Macbeth’s famous ‘is this a dagger which I see before me?’ (delivered so compellingly by Ready that you almost forget you’ve heard the line hundreds of times before). This is a timelessly brutal play about murder, betrayal, family, poisonous ambition, paranoia and gnawing guilt, and the cast brings the 400-year-old script alive, with every word crystal clear.