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Review Round-up: Globe’s Macbeth Goes for Gore

Shakespeare’s Globe’s 2010 summer repertory season, running under the title of Kings and Rogues, got under way last Thursday (29 April 2010, previews from 23 April) with Macbeth in a new production by director Lucy Bailey, returning to “startlingly gory” form after her Titus Andronicus had theatregoers fainting from shock at the same address four years ago.

The new production is designed by Katrina Lindsay and choreographed by Javier De Frutos (who won an Olivier for Cabaret). It stars Elliot Cowan in the title role alongside Laura Rogers as Lady Macbeth in a cast that also features Karen Anderson, Christian Bradley, Michael Camp, James Clyde, Nick Court, Keith Dunphy, Julius D’Silva, Janet Fullerlove, Simone Kirby, James McArdle, Ian Pirie, Frank Scantori, Ken Shorter and Craig Vye. Macbeth continues in rep until 27 June 2010.

  • Maxwell Cooter on Whatsonstage.com (three stars) – “Blood will have blood they say and there\'s certainly plenty of gore in Lucy Bailey\'s Grand Guignol-like take on the Scottish play… Accompanied by Orlando Gough\'s discordant bagpipe music, this is a vision of a, literally, hellish Scotland… While some recent productions have eschewed some of the supernatural elements, this one positively relishes them… As the doomed pair, there\'s real passion between Elliot Cowan and Laura Rogers, getting right down to it as soon as Macbeth’s back from the war… But Cowan\'s Macbeth seems to tip over into madness too easily… With the exception of Keith Dunphy\'s blunt, Irish Macduff, and a grotesque porter from Frank Scantori, there’s little offered by the supporting cast – all rather overwhelmed by Bailey’s vision. Bailey takes us on an epic journey (the evening lasts just over three hours – some going for Shakespeare\'s second shortest play) but it\'s a journey full of imagination, horror and inventiveness, even if some of the human failings are skated over.”
  • Michael Billington in the Guardian (three stars) – “Lucy Bailey has an appetite for theatrical violence. After her Globe Titus Andronicus and her Stratford Julius Caesar, she now brings us an unremittingly savage Macbeth. The result is a mish-mash: a production full of ideas but so focused on spectacle, much of it resulting from Javier de Frutos\' orchestrated movement, that Shakespeare\'s most compact tragedy is stretched to more than three hours... The violence also frequently runs counter to the text... But Bailey has some good touches. I liked the raw sexuality that animates the marriage of the youthful Macbeths... While the production is too insistent on its portrait of medieval Scotland as hell on earth, it compensates with arresting human detail. I have similarly mixed feelings about the acting. Elliot Cowan plausibly shows Macbeth as a man drawn into a nightmare of his own creation, but his verse-speaking is erratic... Laura Rogers starts well as a fierce, feisty Lady Macbeth but rattles through the sleepwalking scene as if she had a train to catch. The best performance comes from Julius D\'Silva, who as Ross gives an object-lesson in how to speak verse with clarity and understanding.”
  • Henry Hitchings in the Evening Standard (three stars) – \"Lucy Bailey’s new production is startlingly gory. Blood and violence are everywhere... It’s exactly the type of vigorous approach to Shakespeare that suits the Globe... In the title role, Elliot Cowan has a remarkable physical presence... He’s virile and menacing, and his relationship with Lady Macbeth (Laura Rogers) is charged with combustible sexuality. Where Cowan convinces less is in his verse-speaking. There are some pleasing details, yet he fails to persuade us of Macbeth’s descent into the abyss of madness, and there’s a nagging feeling that his diction could be better... Rogers is effective as the cool manipulator who inspires Macbeth’s bloody craving for power, but her collapse in the later stages disappoints... The Globe’s space is used well and the imagination Bailey and designer Katrina Lindsay have brought to it provides some beguiling moments. Yet the inventiveness is fitful, and the second half sags. We’re entertained, but not mesmerised.”
  • Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph (three stars) – “The director Lucy Bailey is a mistress of theatrical horror. When she staged Shakespeare’s gore-fest, Titus Andronicus, at the Globe in 2006, there was so much graphic unpleasantness that many members of the audience fainted with shock... It’s a pleasure to report that once again she is up to no end of entertaining nastiness... Bailey has turned the Globe into a Dante-inspired circle of theatrical hell with those at the lowest level resembling the damned... But if the staging, brilliantly designed by Katrina Lindsay, is spectacular ... the key performances are a good deal less impressive. With his rippling musculature and menacing stage presence, Elliot Cowan certainly looks the part of Macbeth but he should have spent less time in the gym and more with the voice coach ... His early scenes with Laura Rogers’ nervy and diminutive Lady Macbeth have a charged sexuality ... but neither actor fully succeeds in suggesting the bleak, lonely wasteland they inhabit after sin has devastated both their lives and their once passionate love for each other... Unless Cowan and Rogers dramatically raise their game, this Macbeth will be remembered as an enjoyably gory curiosity rather than a deeply felt human tragedy.”
  • Benedict Nightingale in The Times (four stars) – “To enter the Globe is to get quite a shock. The stage has been extended into the theatre’s well, becoming a vast blackcloth with slits through which the heads of groundlings protrude, giving the impression that they have been decapitated... Certainly, Bailey’s revival does not fail to face what’s grim and grisly in Macbeth... And Elliot Cowan’s Macbeth is impressively monstrous by the end. I’ve seen deeper, more inward Macbeths, but not many. Considering that he is on a stage unsuited to the play’s intimacies, Cowan does very well. He is variously wary, restless, excitable, jumpy, desperate, formidable and sweatily, scarily nihilistic... As often in Macbeth revivals these days, sex plays a strong part in their bond... Twice the principals virtually copulate onstage. But Rogers’ Lady is physically flimsy and emotionally weaker than she thinks... There are striking visual moments, many involving trap doors... I was content just to nod, in appreciation at maybe the strongest opener to a Globe season I have seen.”
  • Sarah Hemming in the Financial Times (four stars) – “Hell is ever present in Lucy Bailey’s evocative new staging of Macbeth. Katrina Lindsay’s set draws on Gustav Doré’s illustrations for Dante’s Divine Comedy. A huge black canopy spreads across the Globe courtyard, dotted with holes through which spectators slot their heads, like the damned souls trapped in the lowest circle of Hell... It is playful, original and powerful. Bailey’s staging seizes on the circular nature of the Globe to suggest that we are all trapped in this hellish tale of spiralling ambition ... This is a gory telling... These Macbeths are young, hot-headed and hot-blooded, stripping off as they plan regicide. Elliot Cowan is a strapping, handsome Macbeth: he brings vigour and charisma to the part but also conveys the torment of an unquiet mind. Laura Rogers starts less strongly but is deeply affecting in the sleepwalking scene... This brooding production launches the new season strongly. And no one will forget Frank Scantori’s grotesque porter, who brings a new meaning to the phrase ‘comic relief’.”
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