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Macbeth at Shakespeare’s Globe

Marion Marples

Shakespeare's Globeâs new season opens with a hellish and gory production of Macbeth by director Lucy Bailey.

Elliot Cowan as Macbeth (Photo: Ellie Kurttz)
Elliot Cowan as Macbeth (Photo: Ellie Kurttz)

The famous "O" has been transformed into a medieval vision of hell, with steaming incense, a black veil curtain encircling the stage to conceal and obscure, and the groundlings standing with heads protruding from a black canopy, reminding me of Doré's depiction of hell. This is the entrance to an underworld from which witches emerge and into which bodies disappear with alarming frequency. A master stroke is when bloody Banquo appears from a festive platter as the ghost at the feast.

The invocation of medieval Scotland is added to by cacophonous bagpipes and improvised digeridoos, which provide an infernal accompaniment. All arranged by Orlando Gough and played by Globe-regular Belinda Sykes and her band.

Macbeth, played energetically by Elliott Cowan, unfortunately does not project his lines strongly enough – even in the front row words were lost. The witches, bloody creatures reminding me of new born babies or Russian dolls, were truly creatures of the underworld. The comic turn, the castle porter, played by Frank Scantori, was suitably disgusting and amusing, threatening to empty his night bucket over the audience. Lady Macbeth, Laura Rogers, started well but her 'out damned spot' speech was lost.

It was sometimes hard to distinguish the other characters, but the ensemble playing and slimy bloodiness kept the audience on edge for close on three hours. The usual end of play jig was suitably subdued but relieved some of the brutality.

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