Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare’s Globe, London – until 2 February 2018
Third time lucky: after two glumly disappointing 2018 productions steeped in directorial gimmicks – RSC and NT – the candlelit cramp of the Wanamaker gives us back Macbeth. Here in Robert Hastie’s careful production is all the horror, psychological acuity and profound, terrified morality of Shakespeare’s darkest play. Darker it is than the wickedly playful Richard III or the ludicrously bloodthirsty Titus Andronicus, because of its very intimacy and humanity.
This is the trapped struggle of the ordinary, unpsychopathic heart afraid of its own deeds – sleepless, hallucinating, crazed. It plays out in claustrophobic darkness, sometimes total when the sconces and candelabra are doused. Sometimes it is just stricken, anguished faces you see, so close in this small space, illuminated alone by flickering individual candle lanterns black-shielded towards us.
Proper Jacobean witches? Oh yes: not period, not comic, cartoonish, or having their lines too apologetically trimmed by squeamishly unsuperstitious directors. Just quietly horrible: eerie in whispering the incantation, matter-of-fact in their workaday discussion about raising tempests on a seafarer to avenged on his wife who anointed them. Later, when the guilty Macbeth’s recalls them they are disembodied, a scuffling of ratlike footprints, a voice from the gallery, a door opening under unseen hands, a face glimmering for a moment.
Good productions bring each viewer private fresh perceptions and textual flashes of authorial genius. Here for me in Paul Ready’s performance, it was Macbeth’s naïveté: the smile of sudden ambition in the lamplight, the self-consciously masterful decision to tell his wife it is all off, the caving into her, the hysteria, the dismayed realisation of each new necessary murder. This is exactly the kind of man who WOULD do something stupid like bringing the bloody daggers out of the Kings chamber so that his wife had to take them back and bloody the grooms. As the desperate tale goes on, we see him ever more alone and ever less able to tolerate it.
As for her, Michelle Terry is enigmatic, troubled: part brisk housewifely organiser, part deeply damaged woman : her speech about giving suck and dashing a baby’s brains out is tremblingly intense. The relationship is interesting, she weakening visibly each time the hysterical Macbeth rejects her hand after the deed. Her final sleepwalking screams into the gloom are shocking, but her return to housewifely briskness ‘“a soldier and afeard? To bed, to bed” even more so. She fascinates. And so, in his growing resignation, does Ready, slowly understanding the futility of his track to dusty death, the aridity of what he has won.
See? Keep away from bleeding polystyrene heads and gimmicks and the play itself comes back, timeless and terrifying. Hastie eschews both full modernity and period dress for universal black and grey with detail of 18-20c shapes; the bloodied messenger is in an Aran sweater. The Globe’s policy of inclusiveness gives us among other 21c castings a female Macduff – Anna-Maria Nabirye in a performance strong enough to be the last thing you’d notice about him/her . Laura Moody’s score -mostly vocal from herself and two other women above – expresses both the discordant wickedness of the play and, sometimes, its powerful religious sense: Duncan kneels to pray by the candlelit footlights; so do the rebel thanes . When Macbeth cannot say “Amen” makes his stricken face, in the flickering light, says it all.
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to 2 feb