mon 15/07/2024

Globe to Globe: Macbeth, Shakespeare's Globe | reviews, news & interviews

Globe to Globe: Macbeth, Shakespeare's Globe

Globe to Globe: Macbeth, Shakespeare's Globe

A druggy punk Polish version of the Scottish Play with transvestite witches wows the Globe

John Haynes

When I say this was the most punk Shakespeare I’ve ever seen, I mean it was short, loud, vulgar and showed two fingers to every single worthy but dull production you have ever snoozed through. Maja Kleczewska's Scottish play in Polish was fearless, funny and not so much in bad taste as completely beyond taste.

Take the scene of Duncan’s murder: at the front of the stage, one of the witches - a tall transvestite with a long auburn hair and vertiginous gold high heels, green feather boa and little black dress - is doing a karaoke version of Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang Bang”. The tranny, who is one of the witches, then gives Macbeth a blow job. The next scene features a confrontation with Macbeth (Makbet in Polish; sounds more gangsterish) and Banquo where they sit in desk chairs sipping garish cocktails with those little umbrellas. The soundtrack is “Smack My Bitch Up” by the Prodigy.

Previously we had borne witness to a debauched party at Dunsinane (or D’Insane, as it may be rechristened) where a paunchy Duncan does a strip. It’s a treat for connoisseurs of bad 1980s shoes, not just the gold high heels, but silver strappy ones and white stiletto boots. Everyone is off their heads on booze and drugs, shuffling along to Michael Jackson and bad salsa, before they either collapse or drag members of either (or indeterminate) gender for intoxicated sex. Macbeth has pointy glitter shoes and a Reservoir Dogs type suit.

You get the idea. It’s hard to place where D’Insane might be. Artistically, it’s undoubtedly post-Almodóvar and post-Tarantino. But is it more than a fast-moving camp romp? The party scene reminded me of the Mexican drug lords party in the brilliant (and rather Shakespearean) TV series Breaking Bad. The big drug barons such as Colombia's Pablo Escobar were like royalty, and there is a culture of vicious violence (seven severed heads were rolled across a disco floor not so long ago in Mexico).

It was vulgar, as energetic as a kid on Ritalin, and completely shameless

And who expects drug barons to have good taste? So in that context scenes like the genuinely shocking graphic rape and senselessly violent killing of Lady Macduff and her children began to make perfect sense. The children had just been, lawd-have-mercy, blowing bubbles around the stage.

Of course, in the second half things got darker (cue "Lux Aeterna" from Clint Mansell and the Kronos Quartet as doom-laden soundtrack). The Hollywood pitch might be this: suppose one of these vicious killers and his wife, who had been putting him up to murder to become the boss, suddenly acquired a conscience. What then? 

How many casual killers and tyrants do have bad dreams haunting them and can’t actually hack the reality, even as they ponder as Macbeth does, “I am in blood/Stepp’d in so far that, should I wade no more,/Returning were as tedious as go o’er?” The doom, gloom and angst don’t last long, but long enough to suggest this cast from Teatr im. Kochanowskiego could have done a Tarkovsky-like intense meditation if they so chose. (And Poland has a great avant theatre history with the likes of Kantor and Grotowski to build on).

But this was essentially a cartoon version. The whole thing ends, after the death of the Macbeths, with the cast punching the air, dressed in military fatigues singing along euphorically to “I Will Survive". It seemed to strike a powerful chord with the audience, perhaps because the cast really meant it, or perhaps as Poles who had not so long ago been ruled by tyrants and megalomaniacs. Although it was pouring with rain , no one seemed to leave. Probably because, like me, they couldn’t quite believe what they were seeing.

I’ve seen classical versions of Macbeth that have the depth and power of a composer like Bach. This was more The Ramones. (I happen to like both, just not so much the acres of tedious mediocrity in between). It was vulgar, as energetic as a kid on Ritalin, and completely shameless. In other words, a brilliant, at times disturbing night out.

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It showed two fingers to every single worthy but dull production you have ever snoozed through

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    Ohh yes, we left after the first part! It was anything but brilliant, rather tastless, unncecessarily vulgar, and very far from the beaty and genius of Shakespeare's language. Who wrote the script anyway??? It was a waste of money and time and for once, can't we do something well??? Disappoited Pole

    Actually it was brilliant. I don't speak Polish, but I know the Scottish play very well and was thrilled to see such a "radical" interpretation. I too saw the drug baron likeness but thought more of Tony Sopranos crew in the Bada Bing!. Lady Macbeth was spot on as the madly ambitious "bitch" teetering on the edge of sanity before eventually falling over it. Only the rather sudden end was a disappointment. Bravo or should that be Brawo!

    The performance was amazing, brilliant!!! I watched it twice. I would definitely watch it again if it was still on!! Very interesting interpretation and the actors mesmerizing! Loved it!!!! P.S as far as the first post is concerned, unfortunately some Polish can only complain!!!! I'm Polish and I completely disagree with his /her opinion but I respect it. People be more open to new things! PS2 I knew what to expect as it was all described in the leaflet and on the globe webpage.

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