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Theatre Review (London): Macbeth at the Globe

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Relax. After the worst English winter since Willy Shakespeare was alive and well, the wonderful, warm, welcoming, wooden "O" of the Globe Theatre is open once again. After last year’s uniformly excellent "Young Hearts", 2010’s "Kings and Rogues" season kicks off with Lucy Bailey’s Macbeth of the damned. The Globe itself is the set and its round structure is perfectly suited to Dante’s seven circles of hell; right down to the Pit where audience members look on through slits in a vast black canopy stretched over the floor and the witches terrorise the groundlings before the play begins.

Bailey’s Scotland is vile and violent from the outset. There’s no room for mercy: the brutal torture and murder of the Thane of Cawdor set the bloodthirsty tone for the evening and, one by one, the victims are pulled through the stage into the depths. Comedy is provided by the funniest Devil Porter I’ve seen in several years and Orlando Gough’s sinister music is like an extra character.

Elliot Cowan grows into the title role after Duncan’s murder; issuing orders from the world’s most uncomfortable throne, he battles alone against the forces of darkness ranged inexorably against him while the witches wait patiently to take what’s left of his soul. Laura Rogers is a young and beautiful Lady Macbeth, so intoxicated by her husband and the promise of power that you cannot help but sympathise with her when it all unravels.

A fragile peace dawns when Duncan’s heir regains the throne at the end of the play but Bailey leaves us in no doubt that there is plenty more room in hell for the newly created Earls under a weak King Malcolm, himself a mere vassal of England.

Stand in the Pit when you go. It’s the best place to enjoy Macbeth and what’s already looking like another great year at the Globe. Watch out for the witches and the Thane of Cawdor’s tongue… Macbeth is playing in repertory at the Globe Theatre until 27th June 2010.

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