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Shakespeare’s Globe presents


Elliot Cowan (Macbeth) and Laura Rogers (Lady Macbeth) in Macbeth at Shakespeare's Globe

Photo by Ellie Kurttz


by William Shakespeare


Directed by Lucy Bailey


Shakespeare’s Globe


23 April – 27 June, 2010







A review by James Richards for EXTRA! EXTRA!

The ‘Kings and Rogues’ season at Shakespeare’s Globe opens with a bloody bang this week with Macbeth, directed by Lucy Bailey. The Globe has a fine reputation for bringing the Bard closer to the audience, but here, Bailey thrusts him down our throats, up our noses and, literally up our skirts.

Taking inspiration from the illustrations of Gustave Doré, who created the definitive images of Dante’s Divine Comedy, she has worked with designer Katrina Lindsay to turn the Pit into the ninth circle of hell. A black sheet stretches over the groundlings, leaving holes through which their disembodied heads poke. In the minutes before the start, the three Witches, nuzzle their way through the mass, launching surprise attacks on the unfortunate, unsighted audience. Heaven knows what the Witches were doing under there, but the screams of the unfortunates were blood curdling.

They had little time to recover – moments into Act 1, three bloody, pieced corpses rose out of gashes in the black curtain among the groundling’s heads, a hellish triptych that presages a largely traditional production steeped in the red stuff.

Elliot Cowan is a swarthy Macbeth, in drab military garb, well-loved by his captains and passionate with his wife, played by Laura Rogers. Here, he seems unfortunate, rather than downright evil – the Witches chose a puppet for their schemes and it happened to be him; his achievement opened the door to his undoing. 

Cowan and Rogers make a sexy couple, lusty and full of life. However, the age-old problem of what motivates Macbeth to murder King Duncan was glossed over. Macbeth’s substantial achievements in war would surely preclude his wife’s jibes at his manliness. Here, we have to settle for some bluff sexual innuendo and be happy with it. The pair end up horizontal time and time again – Cowan’s pinning of Rogers after telling her of his order to murder McDuff’s family is sudden and violent, and her whine of bemused agony chills the spine as it drifts off into the London evening.

Bailey has taken pains to emphasise the tenderness between the lords and each another’s families. Lady Macbeth tenderly combs the hair of Banquo’s son and greets each of the returning generals uniquely. The Scottish court feels like a warm, paternal enclave, which only lends more horror to the regicide.

In a gripping finale, Cowan’s Macbeth staggers around the stage, waving an axe, drunk on blood and his fatally mistaken notion of invincibility, looking every inch the man with the butchered conscience. Cowan digs deep and finds the irony: invincible or not, Macbeth no longer cares to live. Even the elements seemed enraptured – the promised rain, no doubt kept at bay by the sorcery on stage, held off until the  encore, when, like the applause, it fell in torrents on the breathless cast.

21 New Globe Walk
London SE1 9DT

Tickets £5-35




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