Macbeth directed by Eve Best

Macbeth, The Globe, 22 June 2013

The historically authentic Globe stage was given a radical makeover. A ragged palisade of near-vertical planks, mostly white but splattered with dirt at the bottom, covered the front of the tiring house. The planks slanted inwards towards the centre and the two side doorways set within the palisade followed this slant to form disconcerting parallelograms. The upper gallery was obscured by a white net curtain, while the stage pillars matched the white/dirt scheme of the palisade.

Ten minutes before the start of the performance a costumed member of the cast placed a solitary tea light in a metal holder on the stage right pillar ledge. This light was not used in the production and was not a prop. It remained in place untouched until minutes after the stage had emptied following the last curtain call, when the same individual solemnly and silently removed it.

The entire cast emerged through the centre doors carrying drums to stand in formation looking blankly at the audience. At first they performed some tai chi style movements in silence before picking up their drums and banging out a fast, rhythmic sequence. The force of the drumming contrasted with their initial composure and tranquillity.

The drumming suddenly stopped and the cast dispersed and exited, apart from the three witches, who began the first scene before the stage had cleared of the other actors (1.1). This kind of overlap was repeated and became characteristic of the production’s rapid pace.

In context the drumming could be seen as the hurlyburly of battle to which the Weird Sisters referred. The witches (Moyo Akandé, Jess Murphy & Cat Simmons) emerged from the body of actors on stage and were at first indistinguishable from them, as they were all wearing vaguely Jacobean costume.

After arranging to meet with Macbeth, they stood on steps fixed to the stage pillars to observe Duncan (Gawn Grainger) and his entourage in the aftermath of battle (1.2).

Duncan was elderly and weak. It was therefore understandable that he would have to rely on battlefield reports rather than witnessing the conflict at first hand. The Sergeant and Malcolm (Philip Cumbus) emerged from the yard. Malcolm introduced the Sergeant dismissively as if snobbishly ashamed of being rescued by a social inferior.

The Sergeant looked out towards the crowd as he described the events leading up to Macbeth and Banquo’s victory. He mimed the nave-to-chops upward stroke with which Macbeth had slain Macdonwald. The sprightliness of his re-enactment faded as the Sergeant wilted into a faint, making evident his need for “surgeons”.

Ross (Geoff Aymer) related the defeat of Cawdor, acting out the “point against point” thrust of battle, before tossing a written report of the victory to the king. Hearing of Cawdor’s treachery and allocating his title to Macbeth, Duncan displayed the affability of age rather than tyrannous cruelty.

The witches reappeared with twig coronets (1.3). The first witch took off her green coat to reveal her lighter-coloured dress underneath, and applied lip makeup with her finger. This change out of a civilian disguise hinted that the witches were implementing their schemes by blending in with the others, just as they had done during the drumming at the start.

Describing her adventures, the first witch showed the pilot’s thumb wrapped up in a cloth. The tall third witch solemnly announced the approach of Macbeth and Banquo. They joined hands centre stage to chant “The Weird Sisters, hand in hand”. One of them gestured as if throwing the spell into the air as she concluded “the charm’s wound… up.”

They took up their positions. Two of them sat on footholds protruding from the stage left pillar, while the first witch, her lips alluringly red, stood behind them, her arm nonchalantly stretched out along the edge of the pillar. The sexual nature of their trap made them reminiscent of sirens.

Macbeth (Joseph Millson) and Banquo (Billy Boyd) entered stage right, Banquo being the first to notice the witches on the other side. The sisters placed their fingers on their lips, but they were too feminine to justify Banquo’s disparaging comment about their beards.

Macbeth did not respond to being hailed as Scotland’s future king. Banquo queried why they did not speak to him, which prompted them to rise and approach him for their prophecies about his future.

Banquo mingled among them so that when the witches hailed both warriors, Banquo mirrored their posture, arms outstretched to the sides: he appeared momentarily to be one of them. This hinted at the truth behind the witches’ equivocation, that Banquo was the truly favoured one.

The witches exited off the stage left steps into the yard when Macbeth tried to get them to stay. Macbeth began to laugh, gesturing in the direction the witches had departed, and Banquo joined in as they mocked the ridiculousness of the prophecies. But their jollity was extremely forced, suggesting that it was the expression of deep-rooted fear rather than genuine amusement.

They joshed with each other, still laughing at the idea that they were destined for greatness. They were interrupted by the arrival of Angus and Ross; the latter hung Cawdor’s pendant of office around surprised Macbeth’s neck.

Macbeth stood at the far left edge of the stage to speak to the audience about his dilemma regarding this “supernatural soliciting”. He craned his neck to look up at spectators in the far corner of the upper gallery nearest the tiring house, people normally unacknowledged by performers. This was either indicative of Joseph Millson’s desire to reach out to all sections the audience or Macbeth’s desperation to seek help from as wide a group as possible.

Macbeth appeared shaken rather than grimly determined to murder, an impression that did not change when he was drawn from his reverie by the others.

As the next scene began, Duncan and his party rapidly swapped places with Macbeth as we heard of Cawdor’s execution (1.4). Macbeth and Banquo arrived to greet the king.

Whether out forgetfulness or genuine gratitude, Duncan abandoned strict royal protocol and bowed to Macbeth, who, keen not to breach the rule that a subject’s head should not be higher than that of his sovereign, lowered himself until he was almost kneeling on the ground to ensure that he did not look down on the king.

Macbeth’s strict obedience to protocol seemed not to be the workings of his guilt, but a genuine response that spoke of his innate desire to conform to the rules. Banquo was confronted by the same dilemma but went about maintaining decorum with less obvious fuss.

Malcolm, who had loitered at the stage right side, became the centre of attention when Duncan pronounced him as his heir, dubbing him the Prince of Cumberland with his sword. Macbeth spoke of Malcolm being “a step on which I must fall down, or else overleap” but he still seemed frantic and dazed rather than confirmed in his purpose.

Lady Macbeth (Samantha Spiro) strode in through the centre doors clutching her husband’s letter as she passed him on the way out (1.5).

Whereas Macbeth had been characterised by fear, his wife exuded a brittle determination that could be read in her furrowed expression as she critiqued his character. He had indeed displayed all the frailty she described.

On hearing that Duncan would be arriving that night, she knelt centre stage and called on the spirits to fill her with “direst cruelty”. She stood up and called on “thick Night” to disguise her knife’s blow and spun round to embrace the newly-arrived Macbeth as she appropriately cried “Hold, hold!”

They hugged each other forcefully in their joyous reunion. Hearing that Duncan intended to leave the next day, Lady Macbeth immediately leaped to the murderous conclusion “O! Never shall sun that morrow see!”

Their initial reunion had been warm and physical, but now Macbeth withdrew from her with a look of concern as he realised that she had already decided that Duncan should die. This made sense of her subsequent comment that Macbeth’s face was a book “where men may read strange matters”, even though this was ostensibly part of her instruction to dissemble.

The brevity of Macbeth’s response “We shall speak further” indicated his lack of enthusiasm. It was clear that Lady Macbeth had already contemplated the murder in her mind and was keen for her husband to play his part.

Dunsinane

Duncan and his followers entered through the yard and up the stage left steps as they approached Dunsinane (1.6). They gathered facing the audience as Lady Macbeth appeared behind them through the centre doors and coughed to draw attention to herself. She curtsied politely before leading Duncan and company in to dinner.

A curtain was drawn over the doorway and candlelight flickered behind to represent the feast as Macbeth entered via a side door (1.7).

He wanted the deed to be “done quickly” and spoke to the audience as if pleading for our sympathy, listing the many reasons why he should not kill Duncan. He seemed particularly perturbed by the prospect of “judgment here”. He paused before saying that nothing spurred him other than “vaulting ambition” as if admitting to a fault.

The dynamic of the scene changed when Lady Macbeth came in from the dinner. Macbeth insisted firmly that they would “proceed no further”. She spat out her response about his “drunk” hope and goaded him about his fear and cowardice. She was quite right to ask why he had first broached the idea if he did not have the courage to go through with it.

Macbeth’s face was truly horrified when she said that she would kill her own child if she had sworn to do so. This horror fed into his frightened question “If we should fail?”

Having already war-gamed the entire project in her mind and psychologically prepared herself, Lady Macbeth regarded this doubt with incredulity. As she explained her plan, Macbeth went to sit on the stage right pillar step to listen. She used this exposition to comfort him. At the end he took her hand, drawing her closer as he praised her “undaunted mettle” and exhorted her to have only male offspring.

Fortified by his wife’s assurances, Macbeth pronounced “I am settled”.

Banquo had obviously trained Fleance (Colin Ryan) well (2.1). He offered his sword to his son and fought him with his short knife, which Fleance swiftly whipped out of his hand. Banquo watched the blade fly to the back of the stage and grudgingly offered “Take thee that too”.

When Macbeth arrived, Banquo jokingly grabbed Fleance and forcefully led him offstage, overpowering him physically where he had not be able to do so by dint of skill.

Banquo presented a red jewel, which he described as a diamond, that Duncan had offered to Lady Macbeth. After they had briefly skirted around the subject of the weird sisters, Banquo left Macbeth to his thoughts.

Macbeth sat on a step on the stage left pillar and eventually noticed the “dagger of the mind”, which he clumsily clutched at. He pawed at his head in frustration, blaming the vision on his “heat-oppressed brain” and then fearfully drew his own dagger as if it could offer some defence. But in so doing he merely prepared himself to follow the now bloodied vision, which appeared above him, leading Macbeth to the centre doors and off towards the sleeping Duncan.

Macbeth came downstage and crouched touching the ground. He looked at the audience when asking the “sure and firm-set earth” not to hear his steps. The bell rang. He rose and turned to leave through the centre doors as Lady Macbeth, now in a white night dress, entered after completing her part of the task (2.2).

A loud shriek momentarily shook her from her explanation that she had drugged Duncan’s grooms. She spoke frenetically as befitted the tension of the moment. As Macbeth re-entered, her terrified cry of “My husband!” expressed an anxiety equivalent to his own.

Macbeth was not splattered with blood, but there was enough gore to indicate that he had perpetrated those horrors that now terrified him. Lady Macbeth snapped at him when he referred to the “sorry sight” of the crime scene. His fevered imagining of a voice crying “sleep no more” was met by his wife with exhortations not to think “so brainsickly things”.

Not wanting to replace the daggers with the grooms, Macbeth bluntly stated that he was “afraid to think what I have done”, which Lady Macbeth countered with more hectoring.

The knocking at the gate was made against the outer yard door. While Lady Macbeth replaced the daggers, Macbeth pondered whether the ocean could wash the blood from his hand, reaching down into the yard as if it contained that bulk of water.

Lady Macbeth returned with her hands bloodied and ushered her husband away. The knocking at the door still reverberated as Macbeth looked back at its presumed location at the rear of the yard, wishing that it would wake Duncan from death.

The effect of this sequence was to show us that Macbeth’s fears, made very plain in the run-up to the murder, had been exacerbated by the actual deed and were now running out of control.

The Porter (Bette Bourne) climbed slowly out the trap door (2.3). Once he was fully emerged we could see that he had a red nose and painted face, and that his outfit was composed in part of items of female clothing. His louche, slurred speech as he welcomed imaginary visitors to hell gate matched his dishevelled appearance, so that when he told Macduff (Stuart Bowman) that he had been “carousing till the second cock” his statement was entirely credible.

The audience laughed when the Porter put nose-painting at the top of his list of things provoked by drinking on account of his unmissable red nose. His description of the effects of drink was accompanied by subtle hand gestures, holding his wrists limply downwards and shaking his fingers from side to side to indicate detumescence.

The two visitors helped the drunken porter down the trap door again and he grumbled to himself as he disappeared.

Macbeth spoke to Macduff in a curt but unemotional manner before taking him to see Duncan.

Macduff appeared at the top of the palisade, looking out over the stage and the rest of the theatre to proclaim the horror he had witnessed. A cacophony of bells and drums sounded, over which Macduff’s gruff, determined voice could still be heard exclaiming about murder and treason.

Lady Macbeth entered through the centre doors as the household and its guests assembled on the main stage. Macduff still had a croak in his voice when he informed Malcolm and Donalbain (Colin Ryan again) that their father had been murdered. But he became firm and insistent when asking Macbeth why he had killed the grooms suspected of the killing. Macbeth’s answer was insistent but emotionally blank.

Lady Macbeth collapsed wailing on the ground and was carried out still screaming. Her genuine look of horror indicated that this was no feigning artifice but the beginning of her revulsion at what they had jointly undertaken.

The strength of Macduff’s, Banquo’s and Macbeth’s determination to act disconcerted Malcolm and Donalbain to the extent that they decided to flee.

Gawn Grainger reappeared immediately as the Old Man who spoke to Ross describing the horrific events of the night (2.4). Banquo was to make a similar disconcerting reappearance after his death later on. Macduff informed them that Macbeth had gone to Scone to be crowned.

Macbeth and his wife, backed by the rest of the court, processed through the centre doors in their regal white robes, crowns freshly placed on their heads, as the Kyrie was chanted in Greek (3.1). Its first words in English “Lord, have mercy” were quite apt.

Lady Macbeth had a look of blank horror as she stepped forward next to her husband. Banquo broke through the middle of the formation to address us directly with his fears that Macbeth had gained all by playing “most foully for’t”.

Macbeth was carrying a silver bowl which he drank from and offered to his wife as they celebrated their coronation. The king came forward and descended the stage steps to offer groundlings the chance to kiss his ring of office, demonstrating his nascent megalomania.

His questions to Banquo, seeking to establish his itinerary, were transparently malevolent, particularly when asking if Fleance was accompanying him.

After Macbeth had ordered the murderers to be brought to him, he tore the crown from his head, glancing at it as he moved agitatedly, spitting out “To be thus is nothing, but to be safely thus”. Banquo had to die to ensure Macbeth’s safety.

The king tried to convince the murderers that Banquo was their enemy, talking like a classic political manipulator as he recruited them. But the large purse of money Macbeth then gave them made such incentivising superfluous.

Unquiet

Lady Macbeth’s question as to whether Banquo had left the court barely concealed her concern that her husband was plotting against his friend (3.2). Her unquiet looks made perfect sense of her conclusion that “Nought’s had, all’s spent, where our desire is got without content”.

Macbeth spoke to her of the “scorpions” that filled his mind, with his frantic speech turning into aggression towards her. She asked him what he meant by the imminent “deed of dreadful note”. He clasped her close, an embrace she found unnervingly scary.

As he spoke of the “bloody and invisible hand” of Night, he paddled the fingers of his hand across her clavicle. Continuing his thinly-veiled description of the impending murder, he grasped her by the neck in a choke, saying “but hold thee still”. He led her away with his hand pinching her at the back of the neck, so that “So, pr’ythee, go with me” was an order not a request.

Macbeth had been transformed from coward into tyrant in a way that suggested that these were two sides of the same coin.

Three murderers gathered to surprise Banquo and Fleance (3.3). They occupied the stage while their intended victims approached from the yard via the stage left steps. Banquo was stabbed, but Fleance managed to escape the onslaught, an outcome for which his previous prowess when fighting his father had prepared us.

Sealing his villainy, the first murderer killed the other two in order to keep the whole reward for himself. This made sense of his initial objection to the presence of the third murderer.

A banquet table covered with a cloth was set up across the stage (3.4). The guests sat behind it facing the audience. A stool remained vacant at the stage right end, with Lady Macbeth facing it from the other end. She had a bloody mark on her face, which was possibly a sign of further offstage violence against her by Macbeth, but this would have been better indicated by a bluish bruise rather than a red mark.

Macbeth spoke stage left with the murderer and received the news of Fleance’s survival with the same agitated wariness that characterised the rest of his speech.

Banquo’s ghost appeared, still bloodied from his murder, and sat on the stage right stool causing Macbeth to retreat from him in fear. Lady Macbeth remonstrated with him as Banquo left the table, pointing out “your noble friends do lack you”.

Macbeth gingerly sat in the seat vacated by Banquo’s ghost. He perched on the edge as if sharing it with him, scared that he might reappear at any instant. This added a note of comedy and ridiculousness to Macbeth, which was amplified by the patent insincerity of his wish that Banquo would join them.

Banquo reappeared stage left, his face sullen and accusatory, which caused Macbeth to rise from his seat. Lady Macbeth tried to calm the appalled guests, who rose and stood back from the table, while Banquo climbed onto it. Macbeth did the same at the stage left end resulting in a confrontation with Banquo in the centre. The king shouted that whatever form Banquo might take “my firm nerves shall never tremble”.

Despite his uncompromising words, Macbeth collapsed onto the tabletop and curled into a foetal ball as he wailed at the “horrible shadow” to depart.

Macbeth composed himself and saw that the ghost was no longer there. Still on top of the table, he grabbed at the cloth and lifted it to see if there was a bogeyman underneath. His childlike fear soon reverted to violent anger as he lifted the end of the table and let it fall with a bang to the ground, as he spoke of the “sights” he had beheld.

Ross worriedly questioned Macbeth “What sights, my lord?” before Lady Macbeth hastened the guests away. Lennox’s (Harry Hepple) wish that “better health attend his majesty” seemed comical in the context of their incomprehension.

Macbeth spoke quietly with his wife, expressing his discontent at Macduff and saying he would visit the weird sisters again. After Macbeth left, she whimpered quietly alone, looking at the table before slinking away disconsolate, at which point the interval came.

Scene 3.5 was omitted, as the character of Hecate was removed from the production, so that the second half began with Billy Boyd, playing “another lord”, meandered onstage busy whittling wood (3.6).

This was the second time that an actor playing a murdered character had reappeared as a minor character immediately after their death. The surprise and recognition this provoked in the audience was analogous to that experienced by Macbeth when he saw Banquo’s ghost.

Lennox spoke to this lord to deliver the catch-up exposition about Fleance’s escape and how suspicion had lighted on the fled Malcolm and Donalbain, while the Lord spoke of Macduff’s mission to England to recruit Malcolm.

The witches entered, now with white paint partly covering their faces, and began to brew their cauldron (4.1). They threw invisible ingredients onto the closed trap door on the stage promontory, up through which smoke began to filter to create a subtle cauldron effect.

They waved their hands rhythmically over it to make it bubble. The second witch drew an invisible object from her mouth which she identified as “fillet of a fenny snake”. The tall second witch broke off from the cooking to announce “By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes” at which point Macbeth entered via the stage left steps.

Macbeth demanded answers to his questions and surprisingly threw them a money bag, offering them a fee just as he had hired the mortal murderers. Even more surprisingly, the witches eagerly picked up the bag and examined its contents with an unusually worldly interest. Witches are commonly presumed either not to need money or to be capable of producing it themselves alchemically.

Macbeth had also brought with him the silver bowl from which he and his queen had drunk in celebration after their coronation. The witches gestured at it and insisted that he hand it over.

When Macbeth said he would rather hear answers from their masters, they gestured as if binding his wrists together and he found that an unseen force prevented him from separating them. As he struggled, another witch made a cutting motion which caused blood to flow from Macbeth’s hands, which was then collected in the bowl.

The witches made Macbeth drink his own blood, which under their influence had become a potion. He writhed and grimaced for a while. One of the witches channelled the first apparition, who told him in a squeaky high-pitched Scottish voice to “beware Macduff”.

After making Macbeth drink again, one of the witches made an insistent crying noise like a baby while the tall witch brought him an invisible baby cradled in her arms. The second apparition spoke in a child’s voice to tell him that “none of woman born” would harm him.

A witch held her hand up with her fingers spread like a tree to tell Macbeth the Birnam wood prophecy.

Macbeth insisted on knowing if Banquo’s descendants would rule and, ignoring the witches’ warnings, eagerly drank down the remainder of the potion and threw the bowl to the ground. The “show of eight kings” appeared to him as visions somewhere out in the audience. As these visions were described by Macbeth himself, nothing was lost by them not being visualised on stage.

The witches vanished after confirming that the vision showed Banquo’s issue ruling the country.

Macbeth greeted Lennox with his wrists still bound, but suddenly discovered that the force binding them had dissipated, enabling him to separate them in time to speak to Lennox with some dignity.

Lennox told him that Macduff had fled to England, prompting Macbeth’s resolution to kill Macduff’s family.

Lady Macduff (Finty Williams) busied herself with washing clothes as Ross warned her that her husband had fled (4.2). She asked her son (Colin Ryan yet again), sat on the ledge of the stage left pillar, what he would do now his father was dead. Their witty exchange cleared the air of menace long enough for the messenger’s warning of impending danger to cause alarm.

Soon the murderers were in the room. Her son fought against them and was brutally stabbed in the back while lying face down on the ground. Lady Macduff was unharmed on stage, but was led away to an unspecific fate by the knife-wielding killers.

Clarity

The staging of the meeting between Malcolm and Macduff brought gratifying clarity to what is often a confusing and dull scene in performance (4.3).

In response to Macduff’s insistence that he was not treacherous, Malcolm pointed out “But Macbeth is” with the certainty of someone determined to root out a possible plot. He observed that Macduff has abandoned his family as if uncovering an indication of his insincerity. At this point, he was completely honest in voicing his suspicions.

The second element in Malcolm’s test was to be pretend to be unfit to rule. Here, Malcolm gave a slight squint to his eyes and enough clues to the audience that he was playing a game, but not so excessively that it was impossible to imagine Macduff falling for the subterfuge.

Macduff’s gruff answers, voicing his despair at Scotland’s fate and disbelief that Malcolm could be worse than Macbeth, brought the trace of a smile to Malcolm’s face as he realised that Macduff was genuine. Malcolm’s iteration of his faults was a sufficiently obvious ploy to us, but Macduff continued to fall for it to the point that he reacted violently: “Fit to govern? No, not to live.”

After this outburst Macduff knelt in sorrow on the ground, as Malcolm, satisfied that his work was done, pointed at Macduff as if drawing attention to his greatness. He mouthed “Macduff” before praising the man’s “noble passion, child of integrity”. Malcolm’s admission that he had invented his worst faults and, far from being goatish was “yet unknown to woman” was no surprise to the audience, but obviously a revelation to Macduff.

The success of the scene dramatically relied on the audience being in no doubt as to Malcolm’s hidden agenda while Macduff remained ignorant of it. Macduff was consistently portrayed as a simple man of action, suggesting that he lacked the sophistication to see through Malcolm.

The sequence with the Doctor was cut so that the action continued with the entry of Ross bringing bad news from Scotland. He looked on Macduff with real concern, and his statement that Macduff’s wife and children were well and “at peace” when he left them, was compassionately equivocating.

Macduff guessed at the bad news and stood facing the audience, growling questions at Ross over his shoulder and hearing in response that his children were dead as well.

Macduff had come across as fierce and determined even before this provocation gave him reason to press home his revenge against Macbeth. Fired by this awful news, Macbeth’s fate seemed sealed.

Lady Macbeth walked through the centre doors carrying a candle and was observed by the Doctor and Gentlewoman (5.1). She knelt in the centre of the stage and rubbed at her hands as if washing them. Her eyes were wide and her teeth slightly gritted as she relived and acted out her part in her previous traumas.

She kept trying to wash one particular finger and became frustrated that it did not become clean, the frustration of this eventually expressed itself in a loud howl. She retired to bed, directing her ‘to bed, to bed, to bed” at the groundlings.

The soldiers of the approaching army appeared at various points in the galleries (5.2). They called out to each other, informing us of their plan to meet the English near Dunsinane and that Macbeth was fortifying his castle.

Macbeth burst confidently through the centre doors dismissing incoming reports and convinced that he was invincible (5.3). After rebuffing the nervous “cream-faced loon”, he found himself dealing with Seyton (Jonathan Chambers), who was calm and unemotional and dared to contradict him, saying of Macbeth’s demand for his armour “’Tis not needed yet”.

The flipside to his confidence could be seen in his depressed conviction that his old age would not involve the usual “troops of friends”, and also in the angry way he spat “throw physic to the dogs” at the Doctor who could not cure his wife.

The stage cleared briefly for the combined English and Scottish forces to meet and receive their instructions to cut down trees to disguise their numbers (5.4).

Macbeth strode out again and fixed a belt round his waist from which two battle axes hung. He issued more instructions before a howl, very similar to that made by his wife during her sleepwalking sequence, shattered the air (5.5). Seyton recognised it as the cry of women and on returning told Macbeth equally dispassionately that Lady Macbeth was dead.

Macbeth looked out to the audience to deliver “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow”. The speech was unremarkable except for its ending. Macbeth noticed a messenger in attendance and rolled his eyes at his own poetic self-absorption, thereby mocking his own seriousness. He restored his attention on the pressing matters at hand by saying drily “Thou com’st to use thy tongue; thy story quickly”.

This Macbeth displayed a profound distaste for his own philosophical musings.

The messenger stuttered out the news that the wood was moving towards the castle. After branding him a “liar and slave”, Macbeth rushed across the stage and grabbed him by the throat, pressing his fingers into the frightened messenger’s cheeks. Macbeth promised him dire consequences if he were lying, before dashing off to join the battle.

The soldiers entered through the yard and carried bare branches of trees on to the stage, which they deposited by standing them upright in holders at the foot of the stage pillars (5.6).

Macbeth rushed on stage and was soon confronted by Young Siward (5.7). He was so confident of his invincibility that he took him on without brandishing either of his axes. The soldier drew his sword and pointed it at Macbeth, but the king simply dodged the blows, grasped the sword and disarmed him with little struggle.

Given that Macbeth was not actually living under a lucky charm, this must have been a case of his confidence making his luck for him.

He threw the sword back at the soldier, who attacked once more only to be similarly disarmed. This time Macbeth showed he was in more earnest. He forced Young Siward to the ground and pointed the snatched sword at his opponent’s throat, demonstrating the ease of his victory, before discarding the sword.

His self-assurance meant he would not even bother to dispatch a defeated enemy and made sense of his subsequent comment “But swords I smile at, weapons laugh to scorn”.

Young Siward, however, drew a dagger and moved threateningly towards Macbeth. This was a provocation the king could not so easily ignore. He grappled with Young Siward, eventually restraining him from behind. As he increased his hold, he forced the dagger at the soldier’s own neck before plunging it in, announcing “Thou wast born of woman”.

Macduff entered looking for Macbeth, who eventually appeared stage right (5.8). He turned to leave only to be called back by the furious Macduff.

They fought intensely with Macbeth’s axes battling against Macduff’s weapon, at one point two opposing axes locked with each other producing a tug of war struggle. Each gradually lost their weapons so that they fought hand-to-hand.

Macbeth held his axe locked around Macduff’s neck, saying that he was charmed and could not be killed by a man born of a woman. Macduff told him the bad news about the caesarean, causing Macbeth to falter to one side, lay down his axe and vow not to fight any more.

However, he attacked once again, but Macduff overpowered him and snapped his neck, upon which Macbeth fell to the ground centre stage.

Towards the end of this sequence the three witches appeared again and carried Siward off the stage. This enabled the doorway to be cleared in preparation for Malcolm’s entrance.

Simplifying the final scene (5.9), Macduff stayed in place overlooking the dead Macbeth and hailed Malcolm as king when he entered through the centre doors.

“Th’usurper’s cursed head” was not severed from his body. Macduff merely gestured at it synecdocihally. Malcolm created Scotland’s first thanes and invited everyone to see him crowned at Scone.

The performance ended with something resembling a warm-down. One of the witches appeared on the stage right side and played a dirge on the violin. The cast went into a formation and performed more tai-chi style movements, mostly with their hands, mirroring the start of the performance and stylistically bookending it.

This merged into a happier jig with dancing music provided by bag pipes in the gallery above that accompanied Highland dancing and pairs of characters cavorting with each other. The conclusion to this signalled the audience to applaud, which they did at great volume.

Conclusions

In this, her professional directing debut, Eve Best acquitted herself incredibly well. She will doubtless be invited to direct at the Globe again.

The production was an enthralling experience with many fine, thought-provoking points that witnessed a close reading of the text. While the acting was at times characterised by broad brush strokes rather than fine detail, this suited the Globe environment which favours the bold gesture over the subtle.

The production emphasised Macbeth’s initial reluctance and fear, which were subsequently transformed into megalomania and madness, suggesting that they were two sides of the same coin.

Eve Best and the cast should be congratulated for the lucid staging of the key Malcolm and Macduff scene, whose inner workings are not always clarified in performance.

The mystery of the tea light that remained on stage throughout this first performance remains unsolved.

Macbeth stage - tea light not yet in position

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s