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Review: The Globe production of Macbeth (on Screen) ****

The Globe production of Macbeth is available:

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Our Bottom Line:

 A delightful production, a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Based on The Tempest, and Twelfth Night, (which I’ve seen but not reviewed), and now Macbeth, if you get the opportunity to see a Globe on Screen production, then go. Even better, if you’re in London, go to a Shakespeare production at The Globe (but do get a seat in the galleries).

Our Review (****):

I went last night to see The Globe’s production of Macbeth on screen at a local Edinburgh cinema with some trepidation. It couldn’t be as good as their production of The Tempest a couple of weeks ago (see review), could it???

(See what you think by checking out this video clip of Banquo and Macbeth meeting the witches at https://wp.me/P3PGVg-KN)

 The magic of the Globe asserted itself again! There is something about this re-build of Shakespeare’s Elizabethan / Jacobean theatre, and perhaps its funding, which makes the productions I have seen there more entertaining, more moving, than most productions of even the RSC or the National Theatre. There’s only one thing that can beat it, in my view, and that’s a promenade performance in good weather where one can have more variety of set, which can help with some scenes, and even more engagement between players and audience.

 So what made last night’s production of Macbeth, by first-time Globe director, Eve Best, so entertaining, so moving???

 Macbeth-and-audience.jpg” data-rel=”prettyPhoto[this_page]” title=””>Globe Macbeth and audienceIt was quite a complex recipe. As always, the basic ingredient is The Globe. The theatre wraps itself around the audience and the players, helping them to engage with each other with an intensity that is infrequent in other theatres. Of course this is helped by the fact that they can see each other! We’re in daylight!!! I sometimes wonder if the best advice one could give to the RSC and the National Theatre is “Keep the bleeding lights on!”

 Macbeth-set.jpg” data-rel=”prettyPhoto[this_page]” title=””>Globe Macbeth setThe simple unchanging set – a castle built of vertical, wooden, distressed, joists, topped by white drapes above the music gallery with the usual three entrances from the tiring house, was effective for most scenes (the witches scenes might have been better played in a gnarled forest) and when complemented with the elaborate Renaissance costumes of the cast provides a feast for the eye.

 The music is usually a feature of Globe productions but last night it excelled. This is the Scottish play, so of course bagpipes were almost inevitable. However, ever since ‘Braveheart’ the kilt and the bagpipes have gone grunge. There’s a group (Clanadonia) who usually haunt the streets of Edinburgh during the Festival, with 1 piper, and around 20 drummers, who play heavy rock drum rhythms to the sound of rocked-up traditional pipe tunes. Macbeth took a leaf out of their books at the start of the play with lots of drummers on stage, and a piper in the music gallery – a great way to start the play – and the music throughout added enormously to the emotional tone – and the Scottishness of the production, including laments at the start of the 2nd half, and at the end of the play.

 It’s fairly traditional at the end of a Globe play, to end with a dance. This can be a little awkward at the end of a tragedy, and the production solved this problem elegantly with a lament, played by one of the witches on a viola (?), with the cast onstage doing an ‘arm dance’. After a good three minutes of this, we moved back to the grunge pipes and drums and a cross between a Scottish sword-dance and an eightsome reel as the cast took their bows, nicely changing the audience’s feelings to something appropriate for leaving the theatre.

 But of course, at the centre of any production, is the cast and the play. How did they do? First, they reflected multi-cultural Britain with a range of ethnic backgrounds. The accents were also multi-cultural, with Received Pronunciation (posh English for non-UK readers) used for Duncan; Malcolm; Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Scots was sometimes heard, notably by Banquo and MacDuff. Banquo was played with a sardonic Glasgow humour by Billy Boyd, which added Scottishness and depth to the character. I swear I heard a Scottish lilt coming from the witches in one or two places as well. Adding MacDuff’s (Stuart Bowman) Scots accent, and the Scots music, this Scotsman had enough Scottishness in the recipe for ‘the Scottish play’ to satisfy him.

 Joseph Millson (Macbeth) gave a powerful performance as the (anti-)hero. Energetic, with a lot of physical movement, he made a convincing portrait of  a man, dominated by his wife, and other women (the witches), who gives in to a terrible temptation and makes an horrendous mistake, Macbeth-and-witches.jpg” data-rel=”prettyPhoto[this_page]” title=””>Globe Macbeth and witchessuffering the consequences as he moves towards death. He made sense of all of Macbeth’s speeches – not an easy task – and his performance was enriched by little touches: his playing with the dagger in his hand; his interactions with The Messenger (well-played by Colin Ryan); and “Is this a dagger” played directly to the camera in this broadcast.

Globe M and LM2 His and Lady Macbeth’s scenes in Act I and II, as she first persuades him to the murder; then the murder itself; the cover-up; and the discovery of the murder was masterful. Lady Macbeth (Samantha Spiro) dominates convincingly, and yet her brittleness which will lead to madness is still obvious. Only missing perhaps was some of her psychological astuteness “Yet do I fear thy nature…”.

 Of course these scenes are perhaps the highlight of the play, and the major difficulty is how to prevent it turning into anti-climax after the banquet with Banquo’s ghost. The first half ended after this banquet, with both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth making powerful exits.

 Malcolm is played by Philip Cumbus with more humour than usual, which is rather a relief, and helps the ‘English’ scene (AIV,SIII) from dragging, and allows MacDuff’s pain at the murder of his family to move the audience. This, with the brutal murder of MacDuff’s son (again played well by Colin Ryan) and his wife, is key to moving the audience away from sympathy with Macbeth, to the need for revenge.

 One other minor part needs to be mentioned. Harry Hepple made a great hand out of Lenox: he milked the humour of his embarrassed meeting with Macbeth after the murder; and his dramatic irony in AIII, SVI was a delight.

 So a delightful production, a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Based on The Tempest, and Twelfth Night, (which I’ve seen but not reviewed), and now Macbeth, if you get the opportunity to see a Globe on Screen production, then go. Even better, if you’re in London, go to a Shakespeare production at The Globe (but do get a seat in the galleries).

 However the production wasn’t faultless. Three problems need to be mentioned:

 The production suffered from ‘the shouting school of acting’ – the stronger the emotion, the more one should shout. Macduff, Lady Macbeth, and Macbeth all suffered from this, particularly Macbeth. By the end of the performance his voice was hoarse – and nearly going. According to the voice coach I have used on my productions, this is positively dangerous for the actors’ voices. There are equally effective ways of expressing strong emotions which protect the actors’ voices.

 To this rather literalist audience member, the words have to tie up with the action. When Macbeth says he’s carrying a sword, he shouldn’t be carrying a battle axe. When he says he’s carrying a shield, I like to see a shield. On a slightly less literalist point, when the bell tolls that summons Duncan to heaven or to hell, it needs to be a church bell, and not an electronic ping. I know the tolling church bell is a cliché, but sometimes getting rid of all the clichés is a mistake.

 And finally, if you can only get an audience of 17 to a production of Macbeth in Edinburgh, (14 at The Tempest) there’s something seriously wrong with the marketing of these Globe on Screen productions at Vue. These shows deserve to survive, and go international, and they won’t with these sort of audience numbers.

 If this review has stimulated an interest in Globe on Screen productions, or other ‘Global Theatre’ events, then check out our Global Theatre events diary.

 The Director,
Players-Shakespeare.com
admin@players-shakespeare.com

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5 Responses to "Review: The Globe production of Macbeth (on Screen) ****"

  • Discover Fine Acting
    July 20, 2014 - 4:51 pm Reply

    Interesting reading, and much I agree with – it was, overall, a strong production – so I’ll focus on adding / disagreeing and only mention a couple of absolute ‘yes – with you there’ things.

    Surprised you make so much of daylight here (though agree such lighting brings special dynamism to productions), when this production is dark on audience and has some modern lighting, as visible in the link you have for the meeting with the witches! Certainly, I remember noticing the darkness and lights to start. Did that change at some point without me noticing?

    Engagement within theatre space – yes, is strong for the Globe, though this can be seen elsewhere in more ‘conventional’ spaces, such as the Swan Theatre, Stratford, without a lit audience (e.g. King John, 2012), when you have thrust staging. It is about the playing more than the lighting, though the Globe certainly lends itself to such a style of playing, and that is the style demonstrably adopted by its company.

    Particularly agree with stuff re. music / dance.

    Terminology quibble: RP (received pronunciation) is not posh English – that’s heightened RP, with various strangulated vowels and some strange consonants; RP is without an accent specific to place or ‘class’ (its US equivalent is standard American).

    And yes, re. witches and Scottish sounds – Moyo Akandé -the tallest witch, who had splendid movement skills – is actually Scottish.

    No mention of physical abuse done by M to Lady M! I found this concept interesting, but it makes her plight less internal, and – for me – lessens the impact of her guilt / fate. She kept coming in with more and more signs of damage done to her. Were we to wonder if any was self inflicted? (Wasn’t really any sign of that, but it’s the kind of thing one can wind up wondering when something isn’t clear within production, let alone part of the script.) The idea leant itself to the scene where we first saw the abuse, seeming to indicate M might blame her for pushing him, but didn’t sit well with me over all.

    Amongst scenes described as ‘masterful’, you include ‘the murder itself’. As we don’t see the murder, I take this to mean when M has done the deed and returns to Lady M, and I was actually irritated by the playing here. You make mention of the ‘shouting school of acting’ and in this scene it particularly leapt out at me. There is supposed to be such a pervasive fear of discovery here, with so much in the text showing this, yet they were happily shrieking away fit to wake the dead (was that to undo the murder and ‘wake Duncan’?), let alone all those sleepers they are very conscious of surrounding them!

    Yes, the humour of Malcolm and the ‘English’ scene worked well overall, and it was a joy to see that scene given space and not cut to shreds.

    As a minor role, I would also (as well as Harry Hepple) mention Bette Bourne. This striking casting of a drag queen could simply have been a gimmick, yet the dignity, understanding and depth of both humour and pathos Bourne brought to the porter was fascinating.

    A scene I found especially powerful was the final witches scene (Act IV, Scene i), where Macbeth has sought them out for further prophesy – the combination of ideas, physicality and strong performances here were mesmerising.

    I also hate references to ‘sword’ with narry a one in sight. An actor has to give expression to the thoughts and feelings of that character in that moment: what on earth would make someone refer to a weapon on hand as something other than what it is, where no irony or metaphor is meant? Ridiculous! I’d rather they changed the words if they want to use what axes give to a fight – after all ‘axe’, ‘sword’ and ‘shield’ are all monosyllabic, meaning no interference to verse rhythm, and do share some sibilance on the sound side.

    More than this, though, I absolutely loathe seeing bare-handed combatants grab a blade with narry a thought, wince nor cut to show for such an act of what should be either total stupidity or dire necessity. We are supposed to believe these are weapons of destruction (in order to invest in the fight), yet this is – consciously or not – completely undermined by an actor grabbing what is supposed to be a cutting or stabbing blade without any trouble at all. GRRRRRR!!!

    That said, the unarmed combat between Macbeth and Macduff was excellent.

    Also agree re. marketing – the RSC and National have arrangements with Picturehouse which means Edinburgh screenings include the Cameo, where live screenings sell out and encores also do well. The Globe productions are not live screenings, yet should still be tapping into that audience far better than they seem to be. I understand looking to broaden your audience demographics, but I’m sure they’d rather not be losing their usual audience along the way – especially without seeming to pick up any newer spectators by using such complexes as Vue and Cineworld.

    Thanks for the stimulation of your review – always great to see the differences in what people focus upon and remember!

  • Richard Forsyth
    July 20, 2014 - 5:35 pm Reply

    Hi Danielle, Good stuff!!! Of course’ I’d quibble with some of your critique, and expand on other parts of what I’ve said, but better over a glass of wine, than here in a long (?defensive) comment. I think your comment adds enormously to the general impression readers will get of the production.

    All the best,

    Richard

      • Richard Forsyth
        July 21, 2014 - 3:04 pm Reply

        Hi Danielle,

        On reflection, there is one point I want to explain in more detail, and that relates to why I think it’s important to play theatre with the lights on.

        When we put on a play, I think we’re often trying to tell a story, and stories are told in many ways: books; theatres; TV; Cinema, etc.

        A common way to tell a story is to let it unfolld in front of an audience. Maybe that was particularly common in the days of the pros. arch. C19 – C20 (though of course there’s plenty around today).

        Now in the competition between theatre, TV, and Cinema, theatre will normally lose out to TV and cinema when telling a story like that. The scenery, set, sounds etc can be so more realistic on TV and cinema in their different styles.

        But there’s one way where theatre can easily win out over cinema / TV and that’s when the players engage directly with the audience. That’s impossible for TV / cinema.

        I think theatre should usually play to its strengths if it wants to survive, and that means focusing on engaging with the audience as at least one technique.

        That’s much easier if the lights are on; the audience can see the actors; the actors can see – and interact with – the audience.

        QED, as we used to say when proving a theorem of Pythagoras (?sp).

        BTW, I’ve read that theatres only started putting out the lights in the C19, when Victorian audiences started getting a bit too uppity, (and of course, they had the lighting technology). I wonder if there’s any truth in that?

        All the best,

        Richard

  • Danielle Farrow
    July 21, 2014 - 5:32 pm Reply

    I am very much with you in engagement of audience being part of what theatre can do that those other media can’t, and yes – actually having the audience visible is an ingredient in that engagement which can be put to powerful use. I also think that there are other methods and that, while a lit audience makes for a communal experience that will feel engaging on certain levels, there are other, probably more personal, engaged experiences that can occur in the dark of an auditorium, if what is happening on the stage is played right, so while I also see visible audiences as a way in which to aid interaction, I do not consider it necessary for engagement, and think it has cons as well as pros.

    I was intrigued to see that this particular production seems to have been filmed in the dark, as it is not what I think of for the Globe – I was actually wondering if I was mistaken.

    Hmm – interesting to look up history of stage lighting! Lighting techniques have been in use since the Greeks (playing with natural light) and the Romans used torches, having evening performances (which might well mean their audiences were not particularly lit). In Shakespeare’s day there are certainly ways of lighting the indoor stages such as Blackfriars, which imply some difference between lighting on stage and off, and developments thereafter make differences stronger as to what is for the stage and what for the auditorium. It is certainly true, though, that in the 18th century many attended the theatre to be seen as much as to see, but how much they were lit throughout performances (even when not on the stage), I have no idea!

    Apparently the auditorium could be ‘darkened completely’ by the end of the 19th century (due to the ‘Welsbach burner’), so that may be what you are thinking of, but it does imply that there has been some darkening of the auditorium before then. There does seem to have been more lighting for stage from 17th century, but chandeliers were used in the auditorium which helped light the stage. So: haven’t found when darkening of some kind started, but yes, looks as if full dark came in late Victorian days.

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