Shakespeare’s masterpiece Macbeth is given a new lease of life next month. David Dunn meets its main man
ONE might say destiny decreed former Spooks regular Geoffrey Streatfeild would one day fill the boots of one of the Bard’s meatiest roles.
The rising star of stage and screen breaks into a nostalgic smile as he reveals Macbeth as the play he saw as a child that confirmed his acting aspirations.
“An English teacher took us to see Jonathan Pryce doing it at the RSC when I was 11 or 12,” recalls Geoffrey, now aged 37.
“It was a seminal moment. I already liked acting but it was the moment where I first connected acting and Shakespeare and the visceral excitement of this character.
“It was my first major experience of Shakespeare, and it’s one of the most exciting plays, so I’ve had it in mind since I was a kid, as a part.”
Macbeth was a big study for many of us former English Literature students, drawing many millions to Shakespeare’s work.
“My memories of it are of one or two images and a sense of the energy, passion and power of the piece, the excitement,” Geoffrey recalls of that first time.
“And the great thing about playing Macbeth is he talks to the audience, they are an extension of his mind, so if someone is bored I will see it and have the opportunity to do something about it.
“In terms of having a very intimate evening of shared experience it’s very possible, particularly as the Crucible is going to be in the round, and the audience ‘right there’.
“And my feeling about theatre is always the more intimate the better, even on a large scale; there are a lot of seats in the Crucible but that feeling you are all occupying the same space, that there’s no fourth wall, that it’s an interactive experience is important, particularly with Macbeth. The more connected you feel as an audience member to his decisions the more we will have done our job.”
Macbeth brings about a swift return from Geoffrey, one of the stars of the Michael Frayn season in February.
He played a brilliant, ambiguous scientist in the Lyceum’s taut drama Copenhagen, an unflinching performance that also caught the eye of Sheffield Theatres Artistic Director Daniel Evans who directs Macbeth. He was aware of an impressive CV that boasts plenty of Bard.
“He’s the writer I’ve done most of, but I haven’t done Shakespeare for four years so it’s nice to come back to. Having done Henry V at the RSC I thought there were other parts I’d really like and this is one of them.
“Shakespeare really presents you with the tastiest parts. That’s really why I’m drawn to him, not because other people think he is a really great writer. He presents the biggest challenges.”
Certainly the Thane of Cawdor is a huge departure from roles Geoffrey has taken since Copenhagen. He joined the cast of BBC comedy The Thick Of It, playing a coalition junior minister this autumn, and appears in Ron Howard film Rush, about Formula 1 legend James Hunt, with Chris Hemsworth from hit film Thor.
“We’re trying to serve the play as written,” he says of Macbeth. “When I first spoke to Daniel, rather thrillingly we were entirely on the same wavelength.
“We’re setting it when Shakespeare set it, which gives incredible freedom, principally because if it’s a Medieval world where witches exist and people believe in them then Macbeth can believe them, and so can the audience.
“If you set it somewhere else you have to apologise or excuse it.
“I sense something very visceral and primitive in the play that I’m hoping will be well served by stripping it down to this wild world of Scotland in the 12th century.
“With Shakespeare there are as many interpretations of the parts and plays as there are people to interpret them. For me it’s very important I don’t bring a preconceived idea, either based on someone else’s performance or a received notion of the character.
“You work from the inside out, so you say what does the character say? What do other people say about him? What does he do? And then try and piece together like a jigsaw all those little things that are said and done into a wider whole.
Macbeth, which also stars Claudie Blakley as Lady Macbeth, runs September 5 until October 6.
No Thane no gain for former Spooks star
MACBETH may have been penned 400 years ago but its fuel and message remain hauntingly relevant.
Daniel Evans will set it in Medieval Scotland, as Shakespeare intended, so the raw thrust of the piece will be there for all to absorb.
“It’s a compelling play from that point of view because it takes something that everyone has felt – ‘Oh, I could murder so and so’ – but takes it to the ‘n’th degree.
“You see the consequences of that and it’s skilfully written so it is possible to make the audience feel complicite, like they understand how you’ve got from ‘here to there’, which brings it up really close.
“Everyone has gone home to their wife or husband and said ‘You should be boss, you should get a promotion’ and that’s all Macbeth does.
“He says ‘I don’t want to do anything about it’, but he does and look what happens. It enables us to learn something about ourselves.”
While, thankfully, few of us act quite as destructively as Macbeth, society is littered with tales of those who do exercise similar dark thoughts.
“It’s such a dark play and goes to such a bleak place, yet it draws people towards it. It’s because it’s the dark side and every single one of us has a dark side to our character, and we know it’s there.
“This is someone who doesn’t want to go there, but for reasons all too understandable he ends up existing in the dark side. He reports back and tells you what it’s like.
“You only need to open the newspaper to know human nature and we pretend we don’t have it in us at our peril.
“A play like Macbeth gets us to examine how atrocities happen.
“Shakespeare doesn’t allow us the get-out clause of just going ‘that person is evil’, he says ‘that person behaved like that for a series of reasons’.
“In examining those reasons he forces us as actors, and the audience, to broaden our moral imagination.”