Bloody glasses for sweet milk



WE three: (from left) Molly Logan, Jessica Murrain and Mara Allen are the witches in Macbeth. Photograph by Ellie Kurttz.

OTHERWISE KNOWN AS ‘The Scottish Play’ Shakespeare’s Macbeth is the one tragedy most filled with special effects to make it sizzle with audience accessibility. From witches and ghosts to murderers and phantoms, the work in anyone’s hands has the frisson of sensationalism of any good murder story. Under the direction of Cressida Brown, this manifestation of the work, supported by the Deutsche Bank and being broadcast for free on the youtube channel of Shakespeare’s the Globe Theatre, raises the readability stakes in contemporary dress and blood curdling explicitness, to the proverbial hilt.

As the curtain rises on an appropriately rained-on Globe audience, a mass of lurid gore meets the eye: a pile of bloodied corpses or near corpses. Thus the tone is set. And like Roman Polanski’s 1971 version of the work, creepiness, blood stains, things that go bump in the night and the obscenity of ambition are in full spate.

It’s a youthful production which sees characters such as Malcolm, the son of the hapless King Duncan (Aiden Cheng) in shorts and Banquo’s little boy Fleance played by an androgynous Mara Allen. To say nothing of the joker-mask bedecked murderers. But with Ekow Quartey as the man who would be king, Macbeth himself, the work is defined and bold and he encapsulates this great role of a flawed man, with authority.

What’s missing in this piece is electricity between Macbeth and his lady (Elly Condron) however. Condron feels almost too clinical in her portrayal of a woman capable of unsexing herself and opening the gates to direst cruelty in the name of becoming first lady, but one who also has the wile to slither back into the garb of royalty to be convincingly demure to colleagues and underlings. She’s also adorned in a very odd jumpsuit of a costume which, like that of Lady Macduff (Jessica Murrain) feels almost like the blue uniform of a nurse. Pregnancy is actualised in this work knocking some of the Lady’s statements about dashing the life of a newborn out into despicable colour, but there’s an element to this aspect which feels a little tacked on and overworked.

Dotted with literal jokes and puns that feature balloons but also quotes from Hamlet, the work is lively and tight. Colouristically, it is gold, blue and white in a portrayal of friends and frenemies, and having the witches operate as audience plants is a thoughtful reflection on what lies in our community’s midst. Indeed, there are a number of wonderful directorial decisions, segueing scenes in a way that plays with gore and keeps the literal literal.

Effectively, then, this is a youth-friendly work, which ramps up the gore, with a bucket of vomit and a golf ball poised into audience catastrophe. It’s exciting, it’s relevant, it carries the presence and clarity of plot that might make you think of Alan Bleasdale’s Jake’s Progress with its insinuation of ideas of grandeur and how it fingers fate. Above all, it’s something young viewers, in particular, will be forced to leave “whatever” outside, and never retrieve it.

  • Macbeth is written by William Shakespeare and directed by Cressida Brown (assisted by Lucy Hayes) for the Globe Theatre in London, it is performed by Mara Allen, Aiden Cheng, Elly Condron, Molly Logan, Jessica Murrain, Samuel Oatley, Ekow Quartey, Dickon Tyrrell, Jack Wilkinson and Amanda Wright, with live music by Hilary Belsey (trombone), Beth Higham-Edwards (percussion) and Barnaby Philpott (bass trombone) and creative input by Hilary Belsey (musical direction), Rachel Bown-Williams and Ruth Cooper-Brown (fight choreography), Tess Dignan (voice coach), Georgia Lowe (set), Shelley Maxwell (choreography), Jon McLeod (composer) and Laura Rushton (costumes). It is available on demand for free until British high schools are declared open, by the government, on Shakespeare’s Globe’s youtube channel.

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