If forced to summarize Macbeth in two words, you might choose brutality and suffering. While Hamlet dives into the big existential, Lear hammers at disloyalty and Othello focuses on deception, Macbeth takes an unblinking look at some of man’s basest instincts.
The Globe’s production does not flinch, taking an all-in approach to the play’s inherent cruelty. They’re going big or going home.
The results are disconcerting, starting with Macbeth (Jonathan Cake) and Banquo’s (Timothy D. Stickney) encounter with the three witches (Makha Mthembu, Amy Blackman and Suzelle Palacios), who bring a frightening intensity to their prophesying.
There is no shortage of intensity throughout the production. The screaming witches are first seen in a hospital ward. In a later encounter, they appear to be in an asylum – with fellow travelers sporting Hannibal Lecter-style facemasks and restraining chains – images to haunt your dreams.
This intensity is abetted by constant motion. Gurneys, dining tables, beds, antique wheelchairs and wheeled chairs roll in and out. At one point Macbeth flings a cart off stage. There’s even a blood-red transparent “shower curtain” that rolls across the back wall, you know, to lighten the mood.
The show is graphic without necessarily being gory, though there are moments. The production has a kind of Peaky Blinders sensibility – anything violent can and will happen. You may jump a bit. The attending music is downright Hitchcockian.
The cast seems to relish the challenge. Cake brings a certain playfulness to Macbeth, which in no way undermines the character’s transformation from national hero to murderous villain. Still, at times, he seems shocked by what he has wrought.
Marsha Stephanie Blake is equally vivid as the conniving Lady Macbeth, who keeps her husband strong through his most despicable acts. When her reckoning comes, it seems she wants to yank her skin clean off.
The cast as a whole is excellent, with special recognition for Stickney’s Banquo and John Lavelle as the drunken porter – the play’s lonely humorous moment.
Macbeth is a blood bath and kudos to the Globe for not shying away from that truth. A rattling journey into the abyss, but well worth the discomfort.