Review – Macbeth, The Globe Theatre, 20th October 2023
Directed by Abigail Graham
It’s a rare experience indeed…
To see a production of Macbeth and make the claim that Ferdy Roberts’ largely non-verbal performance of Seyton was the absolute standout and that Calum Callaghan’s interplay between Witch, Porter, and Murderer ran a close second.
Daylight was third in a late season show in which the understudy playing Macduff was still on the book. Young fella: you had many weeks to get off that book. People paid up to 65 earth pounds for you to get off that book, sir. To be fair, this may have been the company’s fault.
As for Matti Houghton’s Lady Macbeth – I’ve seen vastly more nuanced performances from graduate students in regional centres in the southern hemisphere. Houghton’s two gears were drama killers. When an actor does little more than accuse, she is judging her target. When an actor lingers in this playable action, the audience leans back in their seats because their task has been done for them. This actor trap is readily sprung because many actors remain convinced that accusation, blame, judgement, and general displays of yelling and emoting equate a strong performance.
Act I, scene vii. Why don’t directors ever read the stage direction at the start of this scene? Or, if they do read it, why can’t they manifest the dramatic situation from the significant hint that Shakespeare leaves us? This analysis of I, vii explains much. The key is in understanding that great words on their own do not equate the dramatic situation. There is something happening upstage. We are told this. Just because it’s Shakespeare doesn’t mean that it’s not a situation comedy/tragedy.
Lady Macbeth has to offer at least a semblance of seduction in this scene; Macbeth, in this scene, needs to be won. From Lady Macbeth’s point of view – all is at risk of fizzling out before it begins. Credibly, Macbeth cannot be won by a woman’s dominance and accusation alone; there needs to be another trick. Macbeth needs to be coaxed and to some extent nurtured. To motivate Macbeth via emasculation, there can even be some playful taunting.
Granted, there are many ways to interpret – but let’s see some of that. Let’s see an exploration; let’s see some leavening. Overall, I got the impression that the actors worked on this scene for an afternoon.
And then there’s the space. Do the text and do the space. I always tell my actors that we are also playing for the deaf guy in the third row. The use of space tells a story in equal measure to the speaking of lines. To paint the picture of Lady Macbeth’s point of view at her entry in I, vii: my partner is having second thoughts; winning him will mean that I will need to take the territory in the space. I cannot assume that winning is inevitable. It’s on a knife edge. My aggression may scare him off.
In I, vii, Houghton entered and assumed that victory was already at hand. Again, this is a drama killer because all doubt and vulnerability from her performance were removed. The audience leant back in their seats (or upon their heels). Ideally, in a performance that extracts dramatic potential from the scene, the audience will lean forward askingly: will she convince him? How will she go about it? He’s quite twitchy. The plot could end here…
In a well-performed scene, she will take the territory gradually to the point where only at the turning of the scene upon ‘…if we should fail?’ will there be real proximity and physical touch. Macbeth’s line is a concession that releases the pressure valve and she is upon him. This way the physical, the spatial, and the textual are unified. Her journey in the scene is to this end.
Act V, scene i (the sleepwalking scene) was no less disappointing for the absence of exploration and originality.
The persistent train-wreck, however (the train-wreck for all time, it seems), is IV, iii. I posit that the Malcolm/Macduff scene has rarely been staged effectively since the play was written. In this context, effectively means in a manner in which dramatic potential is extracted and the audience receives more than a reading. It’s a longish two-hander and you have to do more than just say the lines. What about an activity? What is an activity that enables the audience to see that Malcolm is somewhat suspicious of Macduff? Given that the scene is in England, what could they be doing?
In an interpretation of the play that presented a confused temporal landscape (automatic weapons, swords and daggers, telescopes, and mobile phones), why not set Macduff the task of shooting clay pigeons? Let’s say that he needs to reach a score of eight out of ten to prove his worth to Malcolm in this scene. In a staged version of clay-pigeon shooting, Malcolm could loose the targets and vary their height and direction to test Macduff further. This is a first thought, obviously. Top of the brain stuff. Probably madness! Some might say sacrilege. Nevertheless, a director plying her trade at The Globe Theatre ought to come up with an activity that communicates the scene physically, spatially, and textually; this is especially important when doing otherwise results in a static exchange of lines. The scene would end when Macduff passes the test (inherent with the activity) and unity is achieved.
With the understudy playing Macduff on the book, however, the scene looked like something out of a high school production. And not in a good way.
Act II, scene ii (the murder scene) is challenging in an open-air theatre when the performance is a matinee. Of great intrigue is the length of time it takes for Lady Macbeth to notice the bloody daggers. One reason that it takes so long for her to notice the bloody daggers is because it’s dark. However, she also takes a long time to see the daggers because she is distant, cerebral, distracted, and removed. Simply put, he is trying to reach her emotionally; she can no longer be reached. They are now upon different planes of existence. They have different needs. He is lingering on feelings at what is, in practical terms, the most inopportune moment; she wants to get the hell out of there and is quite pragmatic.
This contrast is the comedy potential in the scene and should be conveyed physically. Performatively, she needs to be a bit selfish (you don’t have to look at each other all the time!). This incongruity, her absence of emotional support, ensures that he will reach for her more; it also means that it can credibly take her 47 lines to see the daggers because her focus is on the pragmatics of an exit strategy. However, when she’s looking at him broadly throughout and ‘notices’ the daggers when the scene is over halfway through, as happened with Graham’s production – well, one wonders how much work they did on it.
Did I mention that all of this took place at a venue called the Globe Theatre on the south bank of the Thames? The Globe Theatre – in London. London’s Globe Theatre. Nietzsche’s eternal ‘people believe in the truth of all that is strongly believed in’ leaps urgently to mind.
On a positive note, Graham’s merging of dream, design, and Witch visitation was inspired and Brook-like, with the present flowing from the previous. It was an all too isolated moment, however; how I longed for two hours of such an ideal coalescence of elements at The Globe Theatre.
Finally, Macbeth is many things. It can be seen as a warning against so-called masculine problem-solving. It attempts many things; one of the things that it attempts is to expose the frailties and by contrast the strengths of masculinity via several key figures: Duncan, Macbeth, Banquo, Malcolm, and Macduff. Indeed, it may be argued that the singular exploration of the play is that of the performance of masculinity within the sphere or possibility of power. If we choose to, as many have, we can say that the play itself is a denunciation of masculine potency. Many have said with some certainty that this is what the play is.
So, why be so determined to substitute Duncan for a queen? What is the rationale for this beyond, because we can? If the denunciation of masculinity is the name of the game at the present time, at least have the full array of male characters on the pitch so we may properly gauge that which is worthy of denouncing.
Copyright © Cameron Sievers, 2023