Director Iqbal Khan has delivered a Macbeth packed with good acting and exciting ideas, but one whose impact is for me fatally undermined by the Globe's new policy of heavy reliance on artificial lighting and amplified sound.
This is the third Shakespeare production under the overall leadership of Emma Rice, who has scrapped the Globe's previous unique policy of bringing audiences closer to the style of Shakespeare's original performances, with an absolute minimum of lighting and no artificial sound. The result is to re-erect the barriers between stage and audience that her predecessors Mark Rylance and Dominic Dromgoole had dismantled. While the Globe previously offered a style of Shakespearean performance unlike any other, creating a unique shared sense of complicity between audience and actors, it's now reliant on the usual box of sound and lighting tricks found in any theatre. The audience isn't required to use its imagination because the lighting and sound designer does the work for them.
WIthin those limitations, which I admit are more important to me as a longtime fan of the theatre than to the average customer on the South Bank, this is a production that has plenty of good points. Iqbal's inventive use of the witches, integrating them in the play's action and having their words sung by soloist Laura Moody, successfully addresses the play's use of the supernatural, which is hard to get over to a modern audience. The music by Jocelyn Pook is highly atmospheric, though at times too loud when the actors (who are thankfully not amplified) are speaking.
Tara Fitzgerald and Ray Fearon play Mr and Mrs Macbeth with an erotic sparkle that brings Shakespeare's ambitious power couple to life. Fitzgerald is particularly good at handling Lady Macbeth's slow disintegration, so that her descent into madness comes as no surprise. Fearon is always impressive and commands the stage, though he doesn't quite convey the quiet despair that lurks behind the Thane's bravado as he pursues his descent into murder and mayhem. Newcomer Jacob Fortune-Lloyd is a particularly strong Macduff, and the final fight scene is very well done.
Scenically, the production is full of bold and spooky ideas and designs, including masks and puppets, which occasionally tip over into grand guignol. As so often with Shakespearean productions at the Globe and elsewhere, the costumes are a mish-mash of old and 21st century styles that don't blend together into a coherent whole. The themes of childlessness, child murder and heredity are ever-present in this play because of Macbeth's obsession with the prediction by the weird sisters that Banquo's issue will rule Scotland one day. 'Might there be a real child after all?' Khan asks in a programme interview. The director brings in a small child to several scenes to heat-stopping effect, but it is never quite clear if this boy is really a fully alive Macbeth junior, or just a ghost. I like ambiguity on stage, but this seems to me more a case of the director trying to have his cake and eat it.