Things are constantly going bump in the night in director Robert Hastie’s intimate staging of ‘Macbeth’. Voices hum, whispers fill the air and strange knockings turn the entire wooden structure of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse into a haunted mansion, glimmering in dirtied mirrors and candlelight.
But these eerie flourishes don’t detract from a staging that puts all the focus on a strikingly counterintuitive reading of Shakespeare’s text. Often, Macbeth is cast as a rugged, brutal Scottish warlord, stabbing his way to power. Paul Ready’s central performance is different, more effete. He’s intensely proud of his own cleverness, but his arrogance means he’s all the more easily manipulated. As both his real-life and onstage wife, Globe boss Michelle Terry is unusually warm and humorous, almost schoolteacherly, hiding her ambition in pregnant pauses. There are some surprisingly witty moments. She reminds a post-murder Macbeth to plant his bloodied knife at the scene, like she’s chiding a husband who’s forgotten to put his plate in the dishwasher. But there’s anguish too, as revealed in her agonising howls during the sleepwalking scene.
Shakespeare’s Globe commitment to 50:50 gender casting throws up some interesting choices, too. Anna-Maria Nabirye’s emotive performance as Macduff brings new weight to his anguish over his lost wife and children, heightening the production’s emphasis on domesticity under threat. Fittingly, Macbeth’s climactic second act interaction with the witches rings with children’s voices – cackling voices calling to him in total darkness.
This ‘Macbeth’ doesn't always totally convince – I couldn’t reconcile the Lady Macbeth who boasts that she’d dash her own baby’s brains out with this cosier reading. And its wry, firmly ungory approach means you lose the sickly momentum that brings this play to its bloody climax. But it’s crystal clear and consistently intriguing, holding up a haunted fairground mirror to one of Shakespeare’s most well-worn stories.