Macbeth, Shakespeare’s Globe, 2023
Photo: Johan PerssonMax Bennett (Macbeth)
  • Theatre, Shakespeare
  • Recommended



3 out of 5 stars

Max Bennett’s bland Macbeth lets down this atmospheric production of Shakespeare’s tragedy


Time Out says

You can drive yourself to distraction cobbling together theories as to why, but there’s no denying that some years one of Shakespeare’s plays will get done a lot more than the others. Often it’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. But it’s not the only game in town and in 2023, the play of the moment is gory supernatural revenge tragedy ‘Macbeth’. 

This Globe production is the vanguard in a slew of revivals between now and Christmas. Up next is an RSC version with gags newly sharpened by Stewart Lee; following that a version starring Ralph Fiennes and Indira Varma that’ll tour to warehouse spaces across the country; to end the year there’ll be a Donmar take that’ll star David Tennant in the role of the ultimate murderous Scot. 

I guess you don’t want to peak too soon, and in essence Abigail Graham’s Globe production seems a touch minor. There are some good - even great - ideas here. But the anticipation of all those hype-y leading men does underscore the fact that Max Bennett isn’t a very interesting Macbeth: he’s just a brittle posh guy whose mind slowly unwinds as he dutifully murders his way to the Scottish crown and beyond, at the behest of his wife and a series of portents he feels powerless to ignore. Matti Houghton‘s earthier Lady Macbeth also feels a bit tossed away, never really getting to grips with a role that can seem peripheral if the actor doesn’t really grab it by the horns. 

The modern-dress nature of the production doesn’t really help: I get that a contemporary Macbeth might present more like a politician than a soldier, but by that token his violent murder of Tamzin Griffin’s elegantly suited, female Duncan feels wildly anachronistic. He’s a peculiarly dull mix of medieval and millennial, and might have been better embracing one or the other.

On the plus side, Graham’s production is vastly surer-footed when it comes to the smaller roles. It’s often very funny. The boisterous male witches - Ferdy Roberts, Callum Callaghan, Ben Caplan - wear hazmat suits, conduct weird scientific experiments, cackle at the audience a lot and pull down plague masks whenever Macbeth comes near. They could be malign travellers from the future, they could be mischief makers from the present; they’re generally a lot of fun.

There’s also thoughtfully horrible stuff regarding the child characters, whose stage time is carefully bulked out to make their deaths feel that bit more grim (if you’re in the market to see a tween get their neck pretend snapped on stage… this is for you).

And it’s beautifully atmospheric in places, with haunting a capella song, discordant martial music and a surreal parade of gurneys that slowly trundle across the stage as the bodies mount up.

A stylish production, but I’d trade most of it for a better Macbeth. Half-naked and out of his mind, Bennett finally shows us what he can do in the last scene. But we never really care about how he got here.


£5-£65. Runs 2hr 20min
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