PREPARING to play Lady Macbeth at the Crucible, Claudie Blakley has been researching some famous murderous couples and admits she has given herself a few nightmares.
“I have been doing it at the worst possible time, just before going to bed,” she reveals. “But I think it is helpful to look at real people because the language can distance you from reality.
“The Macbeths get strength from each other, him more so, and thank god for YouTube to look at murderers and the women behind them. Normally they are the worst – pushing them, Rosemary and Fred West, she’s in the background prodding him. And there was that Chinese couple and she’s killed the British guy to protect her son and that seems ruthlessly ambitious.
“I have had a few nightmares and one morning Geoffrey (Geoffrey Streatfeild playing Macbeth) came in and said, ‘I have been looking at murders on line and I just can’t get the images out of my head’ and I’m afraid I said, ‘Oh, that’s great’ because I think it’s very difficult to imagine. To come on stage and say that line, ‘Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him,’ it’s very difficult to imagine how that would be. I am not suggesting you have to go out and kill someone to play a murderer, but the more you have to help the better.”
“The sad thing about this story is they do it in order to make their life better and that doesn’t happen which is really sad,” she continues. “It doesn’t give them the peace. It gives them the status but it doesn’t make them happy.”
Lady Macbeth is an iconic role and one that Blakley admits to having long harboured thoughts of playing. “It nearly came my way a couple of times but for various reasons it didn’t work out and I’m glad because I think all the ingredients have got to be there - the right Macbeth, the right chemistry.”
And, of course, the right director. “Daniel (Evans) was Peter Pan and I was Wendy at the National and it’s just amazing being in a rehearsal room again in this capacity but I feel close to him because we have had that level of trust and also because of the nature of the parts we really loved each other so I feel all the ingredients are there. I love the city and the theatre too,” she adds.
“The trouble is that playing iconic roles everyone has opinions about it and you have to block your ears a bit. They can’t wait to tell you how it should be played, there’s so much written and so many productions out there you have to say she’s mine this is my interpretation.” That said, the only Macbeth that she feels had a lasting effect on her was Roman Polanski’s movie version . Conversely, she says, she has seen “a few fussy productions”.
“When I first read it again I loved the relationship and the fact it’s almost domestic and real, the way they bounce off of each other. I think it’s one of the most complex and yet simplest of relationships ever written. I see how she is human and I have only started on the journey, but I don’t see her as evil which some people do. I see her as cold and manipulative and ruthlessly ambitious but as for evil it’s not how I perceive her. Things creep up and she gathers momentum.
“It’s interesting that she has repressed her feelings and is unbelievably practical and unemotional. He is the emotional one, she is practical and level-headed and quite centred and focused and that repression gives way to something else and maybe in the sleepwalking scene that’s when you see the real woman and that’s when it all comes out, when she says, ‘Unsex me here’, she needs help to free up those womanly qualities and maybe in that ‘Out damned spot’ scene all those qualities come back.”
Previously at the Crucible in Edward Bond’s Lear, Blakley is most recognised from two very contrasting screen appearances, TV costume drama Pride and Prejudice and slasher movie Severance.
“They seem to repeat them on TV a lot, but they’re two jobs that were so brilliant to do, it’s nice to see them again.”
Theatre has occupied her most recently. “ I have now done three plays back to back which have all overlapped. I think theatre is where it’s at and every actor should be on stage at least once a year to exercise that muscle.
“I have just finished Comedy of Errors with Lenny Henry at the National. I feel quite match fit, it’s like your ear becomes attuned to the language but at the same time it requires a hell of a lot of work to get it. I mean you do get it, but there’s always further to go but I reckon Daniel knows his stuff and I think I am going to learn so much.”
Macbeth opens at the Crucible on September 5 and runs until October 6.