Set play

15th June 2001 at 01:00
Macbeth. Shakespeare's Globe.

Tim Carroll's production is bold, brave and gripping. It dares to walk a tightrope between innovation and pretentiousness with a play which can dissolve into unintended hilarity at the best of times and in a setting which some critics still maintain is best served by farcical comedy. There can be no conventional theatrical effects at the Globe; no trick lighting, darkness or dry ice. Everything depends on the actors' relationship with the audience, with just music to help. Claire van Kampen's wonderfully atmospheric score - moody, jazzy and sometimes standing in for sound effects - is crucial in this case, for Carroll gives us a concert-version of the Scottish play, as far removed from heritage Shakespeare as you could get.

Some lacquered bentwood chairs, a cast in dinner jackets, three steel buckets and some stones - that is what confronts the audience, incongruously, on the highly decorated Elizabethan-style stage. Three of the DJs conceal the Witches, two men and a slight woman, who don worrying opaque spectacles and share out their words, sometimes a syllable at a time. They disappear when they are swallowed up in a crowd of other DJs. The buckets-and-stones device becomes clear in the early reportsof battle. A stone is wrested from a hand, clatters into a bucket and the actor's head droops. The character is dead but the actor is free to join the other suits and become someone else. There is no blood in this production, neither are there daggers, broadswords or even guns. In the fatal battle between Macbeth and Macduff wounds are symbolised by the cast ripping white napkins in unison.

The effect is of choreographed control, with a welcome focus on the text; you imagine darkness or a pleasant castle because the words tell you to. What is lost is the kind of character definition you would get in a more conventional production. Jasper Britton and Eve Best as the Macbeths are exceptions.

The line into risibility is momentarily crossed when Macbeth speaks "Sleep no more" in the rasping voice of one possessed, again during the banquet scene when the assembled company dons party hats and Lady Macbeth screeches at them to leave and again when the female witch suddenly appears like a refugee from Alice in Wonderland during the scene where Macbeth has visions of the future. But on each occasion the audience is hooked again in seconds. This is not a Macbeth for uncertain primary pupils, but cool 15-year-olds will love it.

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