"They should tell us if it's going to be done in modern dress" was the plaintive cry from an American tourist on the way out. Personally speaking, I think it would be better if theatre companies alerted you to the fact that a play is under attack by a director with a vision.
Not that any of us should have anything against directors who want to interpret a play radically, and mine certainly isn't a plea against modern dress. A good director can alert the audience to new aspects in the play and can stress hidden meanings within a play's text that stimulate an audience.
Unfortunately, however, there are some productions that are misbegotten from the outset and Tim Carroll's Macbeth is one of those. This is possibly the worst Shakespeare production in London since Peter O'Toole's assault on the same play.
To be fair, there are difficulties staging this play in the open-air Globe. The natural light makes it hard to convey the requisite air of darkness and to integrate the witches into the action. However, portraying said witches as a trio of jazz singers carrying buckets is not the way to overcome such problems - particularly when, after the opening speech, one of them stays on stage to play the bloody sergeant. Nor, after Duncan has been stabbed, does it help that Macbeth looks terrified, not of blood but of armfuls of golden tinsel. Nor is Lady Macbeth's sleepwalking scene enhanced by having her walk on a seesaw.
I'd like to focus on some of the good points: but there simply aren't any. All you can do is feel desperately sorry for the actors. Jasper Britton and Eve Best have given some fine performances in the past (and will again) but here they are overwhelmed by the vacuity of it all. Best is particularly poor; her "unsex me now" speech is delivered with all the fervour of someone reciting a recipe book.
Macbeth is a short play and contains some of the most robustly, vivid language in the Shakespearean canon. It shouldn't be too difficult to hold an audience's attention and yet, on the night I attended, a steady stream of people vacated the theatre from the first half-hour - that alone is probably dispiriting to the actors.
The acid test in all such interpretations of classics is whether the director's tinkering illuminates the text - it clearly doesn't in this case. Someone who has never seen Macbeth would have a great deal of difficulty understanding what is going on here, and yet, it is such a simple story.
Truly, a shocking night's work. If Whatsonstage.com offered zero ratings, I would have no hesitation in using it in connection with this production. One star seems overly generous.