The Globe Theatre’s latest Macbeth is a refreshing, gimmick-free production of Shakespeare’s thriller that allows both the actors and the text to shine.
Directed by London-born actress Eve Best (her directorial debut), this is a solid show which emphasises the humanity at the heart of the story, perhaps at the expense of the horror. On a summer’s evening in the brightly sunlit Globe, occasionally Shakespeare’s blackest of texts jars (“Stars, hide your fires” and “Come, seeling night” certainly lost some of their power), but under Best’s direction, this Macbeth reveals the relationships straining under the tension of the action instead.
As the eponymous lead, the handsomely bearded Joseph Millson offers us a portrait of a jocular soldier made mad by ambition and paranoia. Initially this Macbeth stands in respectful awe of King Duncan; clearly in love with his wife; happily joking around with Banquo: one terrible decision later, and everything starts to unravel. As he charms nameless thugs into assassinating his friend, we’re given a tantalising glimpse of the charismatic, eloquent King Macbeth might’ve been.
Samantha Spiro brings a welcome dose of physicality to Lady Macbeth. A fantastic stage presence, Spiro’s strong movements make it clear this is a woman who would dash the brains out of her toothless child to please her husband. Later, she makes a very credible sleepwalker; again her urgent, jolting washing propels a sense of palpable terror out into the audience.
It’s surprising to see Banquo’s ghost scene played almost entirely for laughs (Millson channels Basil Fawlty in his mania, peering under the tablecloth for spooks); instead Macbeth’s real moment of horror comes later, spurred by the death of his wife. Standing downstage, Millson’s delivery of the “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” soliloquy is a chilling, whispered epiphany. You really do feel for him, life has become “but a walking shadow”.
Elsewhere in the cast, the band of rough-and-ready Scots (Banquo, MacDuff) are all perfectly efficient, while Philip Cumbus catches the nuances in the faithful-testing Malcolm. The music and sound, by Olly Fox, combines the right amount of bagpipes and drum for The Scottish Play, and still manages to make several audience members jump at the various knockings and owl shrieks that punctuate the text. It’s certainly the most we’ve ever laughed at a production of Macbeth; that the tightening drama is ever-present is testament to a fine cast and crew.