Shakespeare's Globe, London, Global

12/05/2020 - 31/05/2020

COVID-19 Lockdown Festival 2020

Production Details

Lucy Cuthbertson, Head of Learning at Shakespeare’s Globe, discusses Macbeth with director, Cressida Brown.  

Lucy: What most interests you about directing a Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank production at Shakespeare’s Globe?  

Cressida: This is the fourteenth year of Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank and I am super excited to be directing it. I think that Macbeth is the best play, Shakespeare’s Globe is the best space and young people are the best audience. The only way that I am altering this production for a younger audience is to strive to make it better. It’s got to be clearer, it’s got to be more exciting, it’s got to be bolder.

What do you think young audiences today can learn from Macbeth and how relevant is this story in 2020?

I think in the current climate it’s really important for young people to speak out about issues that they feel strongly about. I hope that my production of Macbeth will help young people think about the consequences of remaining silent. In the play, everyone knows that Macbeth has murdered Duncan but some people stay quiet because they want to keep their power. I think that the enabling of a tyrant is just as bad as being a tyrant yourself.

So I understand this theme of tyranny is something you particularly want to explore. Does the structure of the play lend itself to that?

The structure of Macbeth lends itself to the theme of tyranny because it is about leaders and what they do with power. I am going to end the production with the witches saying ‘When shall we three meet again?’ As most people know, this is the first line of the play but I want to leave the audience with the idea that tyranny is something that continues, it is not tied to a leader and you never know what regime you are going to be replacing with another.

And you’re also exploring the links between nationalism and fear. Tell us something about that.

I think Macbeth is one of the most fearful of heroes and he has every right to be because it’s a Machiavellian, dog-eat-dog world. Macbeth might be bloody, and he might be a tyrant but what motivates him is fear for himself as well as ambition. The design of our production is centred around flags because the play has a lot to do with nationhood or nationalism. At the end, England takes over Scotland as Malcolm proclaims it a different nation in just one sentence. I’m interested in these decisions of nationhood being dependent on the whim of your leader.

You’ve mentioned flags as a key production element. How else are you hoping to communicate your ideas through the design?

Design is really important to this production because the space is so immersive, the audience are right next to the actors and feel part of the action. The world that we are creating is a kind of Hunger Games, dystopian, post-apocalyptic world. It’s also an ancient world so might be after the climate crisis has come to a head – it feels very ancient even though it is in the future. As the audience walk in to the Globe, there will be burnt flags which hover around the space so people feel like they are in the middle of this desolate war-torn country.

So to the characters … how will you be approaching the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth?

I truly believe that Lady Macbeth and Macbeth are deeply in love and almost an adult Romeo and Juliet. It might surprise people that we are making Lady Macbeth pregnant and therefore much more vulnerable than she might be in other interpretations. One way of looking at this relationship is that they do all of these hideous deeds initially for love for each other and also for their unborn children. I think it’s important when we label people as ‘evil’, that their actions may be ‘evil’ but we understand what motivates them and learn ourselves from their mistakes.

How are the witches going to be portrayed in your adaptation of Macbeth and why have you chosen this interpretation?

In our production, the witches are vulnerable products of society, the collateral damage of war. They are scavengers on a battlefield, hungry, without a home, desperate and desolate. That’s not to say that they’ve not become crazy, or are capable of cursing people but we want to understand their motives as real people – I think that’s far more interesting. It might be that Macbeth doesn’t meet the witches again after his first encounter but as the play goes on they become part of his imagination and he is tormented by them. Their language becomes much more extreme with ‘bubble, bubble, toil and trouble’ and they become almost parodies of themselves.

I understand the banquet scene is a personal favourite of yours. What do you love about it?

I think the banquet scene is one of the best scenes written in the history of theatre. It’s so anarchic! Banquo is enjoying himself scaring Macbeth, it’s his only power. It starts as a very formal banquet and by the end it’s in complete disarray. We want to have a lot of fun with that.

Watch Shakepeare’s Globe production of Macbeth for free, now streaming on YouTube, available until UK secondary schools reopen. There is a separate audio-described version of the video also available.

Elly Condron:  Lady Macbeth
Ekow Quartey:  Macbeth
Jessica Murrain:  Witch 1 / Lady Macduff
Molly Logan:  Witch 2 / Porter
Mara Allen:  Witch 3 / Fleance
Aidan Cheng:  Malcolm
Samuel Oatley:  Banquo
Dickon Tyrrell:  Duncan
Jack Wilkinson:  Macduff
Amanda Wright:  Ross

Hilary Belsey:  Musical Director/Trombone
Beth Higham-Edwards:  Percussion
Barnaby Philpott:  Bass Trombone

Cressida Brown:  Director
Georgia Lowe:  Designer
Shelley Maxwell:  Choreographer
Jon McLeod:  Composer
Becky Barry:  British Sign Language Interpreter
Lucy Hayes:  Assistant Director
Josh York:  Assistant Stage Manager
Laura Rushton:  Costume Supervisor
Daniel Gammon:  Company Stage Manager
Harry Booth, Tony Forrester:  Deputy Heads of Stage
Emma Seychell:  Deputy Head of Wardrobe
Lottie Bull, Hayley Thompson:  Deputy Heads of Wigs, Hair and Make-Up
Rosalind Doré:  Deputy Stage Manager
Rachel Bown-Williams & Ruth Cooper-Brown of RC-Annie Ltd:  Fight Directors
Glynn MacDonald:  Globe Associate – Movement
Giles Block:  Globe Associate – Text
Tess Dignan:  Head of Voice
Megan Cassidy:  Head of Wardrobe
Pam Humpage:  Head of Wigs, Hair and Make-Up
Dec Costello:  Production Manager
Amy Bygraves, Claire Esnault, Penny Spedding:  Prop makers
Rosheen McNamee Props Deputy
Katy Brooks:  Props Manager
Emma Hughes:  Props Supervisor
Tasha Shepherd:  Scenic Artist
Jack Cray, Charlotte Hurford:  Venue Technicians
Thomas Sylvester:  Wardrobe Apprentice
Heather Bull, Jessica Hughes:  Wardrobe Assistants
Sophie Jones:  Wigs, Hair & Makeup Assistant
Premm Design:  Design
Cesare de Giglio:  Programme and Production Photography
Ellie Kurtz:  Production Photography

Webcast , Theatre ,

1hr 37mins

Pared down aesthetic makes every line count

Review by Alexandra Bellad-Ellis 13th May 2020

This new production of Macbeth opens with a pile of dead bodies, casualties of the war being waged in Scotland. The First Witch (Jessica Murrain) emerges from the audience, clutching a baby doll. She climbs on top of the bodies, looking for food, and takes a bite out of something she finds (much to the audience’s disgust).  

Her two fellows, Second Witch (Molly Logan) and Third Witch (Mara Allen), emerge from the pile of bodies. They are dressed simply and are on the bottom of the social scale, reduced to being battlefield scavengers to survive. The three actors have a close, if slightly manic, energy, as befits their outcast status. They embrace before delivering the opening scene.

They are interrupted by an unknown, bloodied solider and scatter as the court arrive. An uncaring King Duncan (Dickon Tyrell) and his eldest son Malcolm (Aidan Cheng) get the latest update from the solider before he dies. The King is pleased by the news and calls for surgeons to save the man, but pointedly ignores his dead body. The Thane of Ross (Amanda Wright) arrives and delivers the news of the victory and how well Macbeth has fought, King Duncan decides to make Macbeth the Thane of Cawdor for his bravery in battle.

The witches then return, perhaps having heard the King. First Witch bites the finger off the dead solider (again to much disgust from the audience) to show the others. Macbeth (Ekow Quartey) and Banquo (Samuel Oatley) emerge from the audience in bloodied uniforms to confront the Witches. They tell the men their futures – how Macbeth will be first made Thane of Cawdor and Thane of Glamis then King, while Banquo will father a line of Kings – then leave them confused about what they experienced.

Sure enough when they meet the Thane of Ross, Macbeth learns he has been appointed Thane of Cawdor by the King. King Duncan plans to spend the night celebrating at Macbeth’s castle before moving on and they need to hurry to get there before him.

Arriving home Macbeth is reunited with his pregnant wife (Elly Condron) who has been informed of the Witches prophesy by Macbeth’s letters. She convinces Macbeth to murder King Duncan that night to obtain the crown.

Director Cressida Brown made the brave decision to make Lady Macbeth pregnant to make her a more vulnerable character (see interview). In this version of the play Lady Macbeth’s control over her husband is radically played down. She is even seen later in the play warning Lady Macduff (Jessica Murrain) of her family’s impending murder. Elly Condron does an excellent job of handing this character in a new empathetic way. The loss of her child and her husband’s descent into madness adds to her own mental breakdown and death. 

Macbeth and his wife do murder King Duncan in his sleep and cover his servants in blood to incriminate them. After retiring to bed a banging at the gate brings the still drunk Porter (Molly Logan) to the stage. She effortlessly delivers the comedic interlude, including more of the audience then they would probably like. She lets in Macduff (Jack Wilkinson), one of the Kings attendants who has arrived to escort him on his journey. They raise Macbeth who then ‘discovers’ the body of the King and kills the servants before they can be questioned, raising the suspicions of both Macduff and Banquo.

The King’s son and heir, Malcolm, has fled in fear of his life, so Macbeth is crowned King. It is here that his descent into madness begins, first by hiring murderers to kill both Banquo and his son Fleance (Mara Allen). In another twist on the original play, the Porter joins the murderers to make their trio. She also serves as Macbeth’s valet later in the play. At a later banquet Macbeth is plagued by visions of Banquo’s ghost.

When the new King seeks out the Witches for further advice about his future, they spell out his fate over the remains of the feast, pulling bloody dolls from the roast pig to represent the forces of fate. Whether they are real or figments of Macbeth’s imagination is unclear, but their words drive him to murder and war with Malcolm who has raised an army in Britain.  Aidan Cheng’s stumbling, unsure Malcolm, and Jack Wilkinson’s brash, angry Macduff are excellent foils, nicely juxtaposing Ekow Quartley’s increasingly frantic and paranoid Macbeth.

The director has crafted this pared down version of the play carefully, making every line count. The cast do double or triple duty with characters to make sure there are just enough people onstage. Georgia Lowe’s design is sparse, there is no set other than the pile of bodies in the opening scene. Changes of place or leadership are shown through flags that are hung both on stage and from the audience balconies. The costuming is equally simple, mostly blue with touches of white, with characters wearing the flag of their country on their shoulder.

This particular Shakespeare’s Globe performance takes place during the day and in the rain so there are no lights used. The music, composed by Jon McLeod and directed by Hilary Belsey, is simple as befits this production’s pared down aesthetic.

This Macbeth was performed live from late February until early March 2020, as part of the Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank initiative which sees Shakespeare’s plays made freely available for secondary students studying the play. It is available to view, for anyone, until their schools reopen (currently scheduled for 1 June 2020).


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