Friday, 15 May 2020

Stage-to-screen review: Macbeth (Shakespeare's Globe / Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank)

Playing Shakespeare is the Globe and Deutsche Bank's annual education programme tying in with the GCSE curriculum, creating 90-minute productions aimed at teenagers. Tickets are exclusively given free to schools, and while it's not entirely impossible for regular audience members to get hold of them - I know people who've raved about past productions' playful, irreverent tone - I've never managed to get round to one. Now this year's production, which played in February and March just before the theatres closed, is the latest addition to the Globe's online offerings on YouTube. Ekow Quartey plays the title role in Cressida Brown's modern dress production of Macbeth, as the previously loyal Scottish general whose ambition is fired up by a supernatural prophecy, kills the king and steals his throne, only to find that having unleashed his inner darkness he becomes a tyrant with enemies everywhere.

Shakespeare's Globe is a great place to build a production for teenagers as the audience interaction gives chances for the cast to bluff and mess with them, and Macbeth's witches make for opportunities right from the start, wandering onstage from the yard, or squicking the audience out by appearing out of a pile of corpses. And, needless to say, the Porter (Molly Logan) vomits on the groundlings, as is the law.

It may be stripped down but Brown's production isn't without inventiveness. There is of course that playful nature - Dickon Tyrell's rather impatient Duncan arriving in a golf buggy, the balloons spelling "CONGRATS" to celebrate the military victory, Macbeth accessorising his new crown with gold trainers - but there's also ideas that would give a new spin to any production, not least of all further complicating the play's conflicting information on whether the Macbeths have children by making Elly Condron's Lady Macbeth pregnant, miscarrying halfway through; let alone the twist of her becoming the mysterious person who tries to warn Lady Macduff of her impending doom.

I enjoyed Ross (Amanda Wright) being turned into more of a fussy chancellor figure rather than another soldier, helping differentiate her from Jack Wilkinson's Macduff in the early stages, there's pathos as Fleance (Mara Allen) tries to fight off his father's killers with a water pistol, and the appearance of Banquo's (Samuel Oatley) ghost sneeringly pouring Macbeth's wine at the feast is very effective. And while there's a lightness of touch, the killing of Macduff's family was one of the most chilling I've seen. Georgia Lowe's design is dominated by Saltire blue and white, and I thought the arrival of the St George Cross when the English forces join the battle was going to signal Aidan Cheng's simpering Malcolm as a puppet king at the end, but it seems Brown has more of an alternative UK creation story in mind.

The heavily edited, speedy production fuels Quartey and Condron to play the Macbeths as essentially running on panic from the moment they first hatch their murder plot; the speed does mean that one of the play's inherent weaknesses - Macbeth proving to be a hated tyrant isn't well-established - feels even more hand-waved than usual. I must say that, two months into not being able to see live theatre and making do with these online offerings, seeing the Globe and not knowing when I'll be there again made this the most painfully nostalgic watch so far: I've seen as many duff shows there as anywhere else but there's something about the venue and the performances it inspires that give it a unique personality, and this Macbeth might not be part of its regular season but it certainly taps into all of that.

Macbeth by William Shakespeare is available until secondary schools reopen on Shakespeare's Globe's YouTube channel.

Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes.

Phot credit: Ellie Kurttz.

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