From period drama miss to evil missus, Lark Rise star Claudie Blakley talks Lady Macbeth to David Dunn
BUBBLY actress Claudie Blakley sounds a tad worried about researching her part for the Crucible’s revival of one of Shakespeare’s deadliest dramas.
She has been cast alongside Spooks star Geoffrey Streatfeild in Macbeth, opening on September 5 – and when we caught up with her she’d been watching some rather unsavoury characters on her PC, including infamous, murderous couple Fred and Rose West.
“Geoffrey and I are looking at lots of different serial killers, ruthless people,” she reveals, early in rehearsals.
“I decided to stay up here for the whole rehearsal period to slightly cut myself off, but I thought ‘Oh my god, I could start losing the plot’ with watching murderers on YouTube and then looking at the script and being in the flat and not seeing my mates.
“But the more you can steep yourself in it the better, the richer it is going to be, because the language is so out there, obviously, and poetic.
“For male serial killers it’s usually some kind of weird, deviant thing going on, whereas with women it is normally about power. I’m always on the PC, just before I go to bed as well, which is probably really stupid...nightmares.”
Then the actress, who previously made her name as Emma Timmins in BBC hit Lark Rise To Candleford and Cranford before that, is keen to put her stamp on one of theatre’s most talked about female roles.
“I’m trying not to think of the pressure that’s on me,” says Claudie, returning to the Crucible for the first time since her shift in Lear.
“Lady Macbeth is quite iconic. So many people have opinions about her and about them as a couple.
“She’s definitely complex, but she loves her husband and I think they just want to go places. She does stoop to quite unhealthy lengths to get where she wants to go, which poses a question about her psychological, mental state.
“I just want to try to treat it like it’s a new play, try to block out all those opinions and things written. She’s got to be my version. It is all there; Shakespeare writes it, he tells you how to do it. But, of course, there are layers.
And unravelling some of those has meant studying other people who have “done evil things to get a certain amount of power”. Google has no shortage of them.
“I guess, these kind of feelings are within all of us. What makes the Macbeths different is they do something about it. I don’t know what that says about them; something is kind of wrong.
“She knows he deserves to be ‘there’. She wants to be there too, but she wants it for him. She’ll do what it takes. It’s just a bit naughty, that’s all.
“And they complement each other brilliantly, these two characters. There’s so much love and respect in their relationship. I think he’s a bit more delicate than she is, but she’s so strong and quite cold and ruthless. But not just that, she’s practical, ‘this is what we need to do’. He’s a bit more tender and imaginative, gentle.”
Then there’s that whole mystical element – the three witches who forecast Macbeth’s future and modus operandi.
Shakespeare places them not as a get out or even an explanation why our lead man does what he does.
“When they prophecise it, then it has to happen. It’s fate. Everything is conspiring,” says Claudie.
“Then she calls on spirits. That’s the first thing she does, so she can’t do ‘it’ without the help of evil spirits. She asks them to make her cut off her womanly feelings. She says ‘you’ve got to give me the strength’.
“I think it’s a really sad play because they do this to make their life better and it makes it awful and unbearable.
“They really love each other and then they can’t even bear to look at one another because they remind each other of what they’ve done.”
Claudie’s larks with period drama and the quirky - and she likes playing the field
ONE thing Claudie Blakley seems content to admit is her CV features a few slightly bonkers characters.
Her last Crucible engagement had her playing Bodice.
“Lear’s crazy daughter – another nutter,” she laughs. “Thank god I do get a few nutters. Actually, I think I ‘do’ quirky.”
That said, Claudie has also starred in Robert Altman’s hit film Gosford Park, the BBC mini series Cranford and the 2005 film revival of Pride & Prejudice.
And as Emma Timmins in Lark Rise To Candleford she was “as straight as they come”.
Claudie, whose CV also includes Doncaster Belles-inspired lady football series Playing The Field, is still amazed by the success of and acclaim heaped upon Lark Rise.
“It was brilliant. We had no idea it was going to be so loved, but it just had a quality about it that people loved because it was so...uncynical.
“People have come up to me and asked ‘Why is it no more?’ but I’m glad we went out with a bang rather than exhausted people.”
Certainly it raised Claudie’s profile, although maybe not with small screen executives so much. “It’s difficult with TV to break the mould so I was being offered quite a lot of Emmas, and I didn’t want to do that.
“Theatre’s always been good for me. They have more vision, see what you are and what you can bring to the room.”
That said, a huge break from period drama came when she played Cynthia Lennon in the 2010 BBC production Lennon Naked, a role maybe not too alien for the actress whose father Alan Blakley was a member of the 1960s band The Tremeloes.
For now, she’s keen to have a hit of her own in Sheffield.
But that also means doing some dark research. Claudie grins as she admits she’s been known to have her own “murderous thoughts” before now.
“Definitely. I’m not going to lie and say I’ve not. At casting directors if you don’t get the part you want, though...? That’s a dangerous road to go down.”