Monday, 8 August 2016

The worst one ever: Macbeth smashed up at Shakespeare's Globe

I cried. There are particular lines, you see, spoken by Macbeth.

Macbeth shows the consequence of choice. You make the right choice? All is okay. You make the wrong choice? Your life as you know it, as you want it to be? All destroyed.

But can you always know? How do you think, in the fire of the moment - through all imperatives, chaos and madness - which choice?

So when I hear these particular lines spoken, the ones that make sense to me, they make me cry. They are so painfully true. If I hadn't turned the key; if I hadn't walked into this room; if I had chosen a different course of action, life would be so very different.

But everyone laughed. They laughed because the lines don't matter and the pointless/inexplicable child on the stage was helicoptering his arms. Because Macbeth is a comedy, right?

Stupidly, I thought the play was a tragedy; I thought the drivers were ambition, falsehood, make the wrong choice?  Hope, despair, consequence.

But it's not. In Iqbal Khan's vision at Shakespeare's Globe, Macbeth is a comedic, episodic mash-up which takes your wisdoms, feelings, ideas, consequences, and smashes them. Then we all laugh.

It starts early on. With a comedy King Duncan.

Sam Cox is an outstanding comic of the stage, perfect creator of a sodden Stephano. But in Khan's version of Macbeth, Sam Cox plays King Duncan, directed to be a buffoonish clown. That's when everything starts to unravel. I think, if a buffoon is a King of a warring state, then he would have been murdered already, because surely no warrior would accept a weak clown-leader. And, when he is murdered, everyone would rightly sigh, Thank God! Now we can have a proper King who carries a sword! So, having a Comedy King doesn't work. The only way to make it work in this version of the play is: Don't think about it.

But a Comedy King also gives me another problem. When he's murdered, I don't care. He never touched my heart in his vulnerability, in his trust, or his kindness. Then where is the need for the Porter scene?

I was introduced to Macbeth by an old-fashioned dramatist who told me the Porter scene in Macbeth is there to relieve you of your need to express your emotion. After you sucked in your breath and held it there, suspended in horror at this boundary-crossing profound act of murder, then you need to let out your breath long and loud. So Shakespeare gave us the Porter. We can safely release that emotional charge. But in Khan's version, the Porter is just funny. That's all. Just funny. Don't bring any fancy schmancy traditional notions of emotional catharsis here!

Which tells me how, in this interpretation of the play, the emphasis is definitely on the superficial. No depth, no psychological tension, no echo of feeling. It's an exhibition of sound and noise.

For example, Ray Fearon's Macbeth shouts. He SHOUTS A LOT.

'HEAR IT NOT DUNCAN' he yells, and I think, 'Hush! You'll wake up the whole castle!' Macbeth's shouty declarations (probably directed as a Victorian villain) are in contrast to Lady Macbeth.

Now I really like my Lady Macbeth to be a fire-and-belly woman in lust for power. I wasn't sure what Khan liked from his Lady Macbeth. She didn't work as a seductress because there was no pacing towards that end - Macbeth gets a quick snog, accompanied by audience whistles in an atmosphere of passion that would be okay in a bus shelter - but she's not given the space and time for dismantling and unsexing herself for power either. That moment is overtaken by a bit of evidence burning when you can get the lighter to work. In the end, we get Tara Fitzgerald twitching a lot, making silly kissing noises and flapping about a bit.

But Macbeth is a comedy, right? We can all laugh at everything. And I mean everything.

The audience laugh when King Duncan's corpse is discovered - the delivery of the lines by Malcolm invite you to do so. The audience laugh when Lady Macduff is murdered - the murderers are so funny! The audience laugh at the mental horrors of Lady Macbeth as she sleepwalks - her twitching is hilarious! Then we all laugh when Macbeth is hooked, on the fulcrum of self-preservation and self-sacrifice - when we should feel the pain of this predicament. Here, he can't decide whether to wear armour or not. Tee-hee.

The lines are spoken for the joke in mind and the actors are directed to humour. By the end, most of the lines felt like an operational difficulty to propel us to the joke. When the speeches are over-long, someone comes up with a pantomime moment to keep the audience stupid.

But there must be saving graces to this production, surely?! Er, I could try the originality of the four witches. Um. Every skoolchild know Macbeth has 3 witches. No! Wrong! Not 3 now! Four! Four witches!

Smash up tradition and it all comes apart. Here I am, foolishly thinking three is the magic number; the supernatural number of the Catholic trinity as experienced in dangerous and reforming Tudor times, when the Church reformers are looking at Catholic belief as superstition, when danger lurks in believing in three. Anyway, put that nonsense out of your mind if you see this production with its Four Witches. We don't want the audience to start engaging in Deep Thought, do we?

Howabout the amplification at the Globe? Those enormous speakers that thrash out booming sound! It doesn't matter that I couldn't hear what Banquo said. Listen to the spooky noise! It didn't matter the whole drama got swallowed up in a whooo-whoooo-whooo through the speakers! Enter into the superficiality of the theatre, why don't you!

Howabout song? Every West End production must have a song, right? The words of the witches will do, okay? We'll sing those. Except, in the original clipped speeches of the witches and Macbeth, the words tell us of a subtle power shift between imagination and reality; resolve and doubt; power and subjugation. Take those words away and sing them over the speakers and we lose all that. We just get the spooky song.

Which is okay because we also get Chucky the spooky doll and the Son of Macbeth, the pointless/inexplicable child on Khan's stage who ends the whole sorry mess by sitting on the throne after Malcolm's coronation, paving the way for Macbeth II. Coming soon to your Cineworld screening!

And that's about it. A performance that is bereft of intelligence, emotional content, coherence, integrity or respect for the script or for the audience. At one point Squirrel whispers, 'Is it an amateur production?'

Take note, Globe! Squirrel (this is her 8th Macbeth) hated it, said it was the worst one ever, this version of Khan's Macbeth, played out lamentably at this once-great Shakespeare's Globe, under the new direction to 'experiment' the hell out of every and any play they can.

But there are plus points. Your actors are wonderful. Just here, miscast and misdirected. The puppetry was good, and the crowns twirling in the air a gentle ghostly reminder and foretelling. Nadia Albina a natural on this stage; the best of the lot. And it didn't rain.

On the train home, we all found laughter in the corny flapping bats which made the stage look like a Hallowe'en Party. And we all found common ground in agreeing Iqbal's version was a mess, through and through. No-one cared whether the Comedy King was alive or dead. No-one cared about Macbeth and we'd all wondered about leaving half way through.

Me, I was made smaller and less of a thinking person by the lines which I wanted to be so full of significance, but which were thrown away because in the great new enterprise, they just don't matter. So I cried. And everyone laughed.


Place to stand... said...

Thank you for this wonderful appraisal - I am going to have to go away and have a good think but I don't think I want to laugh at Macbeth...

Grit said...

hi Place to Stand! Well, to be fair and balanced, you should go, then see if it floats your boat. It might! Hmmm... howabout a water-based Macbeth? With mermaids instead of witches? Do you think that would work?!