One of Shakespeare’s best-known plays which is brimming with menace is getting an exciting new look.The National Theatre is bringing Macbeth to Norwich Theatre Royal from October 30 to November 3 and artistic director Rufus Norris is bringing the play out of the dark and bloody Scottish Middle Ages into a post-apocalyptic and blood-soaked modern day world.
Playing the role of Lady Macbeth is Kirsty Besterman (left), (Genesis Inc. at Hampstead Theatre, They Drink It in The Congo at the Almeida Theatre, and BBC One’s Father Browntakes), and she is relishing getting into the mind of one of Shakespeare’s most notorious female characters.
This is a very intense play emotionally and also it’s quite a demanding set physically, so how are you marrying those two elements?
Physically for me, the bridge is quite a steep rake and I only come down it once at the moment but it needs practice – strong abs, strong quads, so that’s my physical preparation, to build those! Emotionally, it’s wonderful to play a part that has this incredible journey that she goes on because they climb and crawl their way up to the top. Then everything comes crashing down, they lose everything, they lose their minds. Lady Macbeth really loses her mind. So it will be quite demanding.
It is one of the iconic Shakespearean female roles – is it something you always wanted to play?
Yes. It was. At drama school I read it a lot and I think I worked on maybe one speech. I really wanted to play her for quite a while and then I forgot about it. I did a lot of Shakespeare in my twenties and I felt ‘I really want to do Lady Macbeth soon’, but then my career went in a different direction. So when my agent said they want to see you for Lady Macbeth, I was ‘Oh my god – YES!’. That was really exciting. This career is hard for actors and you have your dreams and your aspirations and as you get older you think ‘I’ll take what I can get’, ‘get on with it’ and ‘it’s a job’. So then when these iconic parts come your way it is utterly exhilarating and exciting and a privilege, and daunting and scary.
All human emotion is laid bare in Shakespeare. Do you feel you need a little more maturity and experience of life to really do justice to a role like Lady Macbeth?
Yes, I feel I am at the right age to do it. I also think the key to her is that she’s lost children, and the inner core is sadness and grief and loss. And really that’s going to resonate more if you are an older woman, I think. I think there are often interpretations that the Macbeths have a fertility issue. Michael [Nardone, playing Macbeth] and I quite keenly didn’t want to do that. We wanted to have had a family that is now broken because our children were killed in the war, and I think that’s a really good choice for us. It makes us closer somehow as a couple. So I like the idea that for our age we could have had young children. That’s in our heads. Of course, that’s not on the stage, that’s not seen, but that’s just for us to have in our hearts for our choices.
Is there a particular scene that you really relish playing?
At the moment I love where after Macbeth has killed Duncan and he comes out with the daggers – that’s my favourite scene. He’s supposed to leave the daggers and I tell him off and he freaks out and I have to go and do the daggers. It’s the height of horror really – killing the king – but it’s also this wonderful domestic scene of ‘what’s wrong with you?’, ‘you didn’t do it properly’ and him going ‘I can’t do it, I can’t go back in there’. ‘Fine, I’ll do it’. It’s such a great scene. I love doing that and I’m going to get my hands covered in blood which is quite exciting because I’ve never had that before. I’m always in a frock pouring drinks or something in a play – not getting my hands covered in blood.
It’s The National Theatre – do you feel that comes with a responsibility?
Definitely. I’ve never worked for The National and I’ve been a million times and I love it. It’s the mecca for actors, in a way, and so it’s really exciting and a responsibility, and obviously it was this fantastic production originally and that’s a lot to live up to. I didn’t see it so I’m quite grateful that I didn’t. I don’t know if I’d have felt as brave to take it on as I do. So we have a lot to live up to but we also have the strength behind us of a successful production and they know what works and we can feel secure about that as well, which is nice.
Are you looking forward to touring?
Yes, I’ve done a lot touring. I have my routines. I’ve already done my digs, sorted out all my accommodation because I’m a bit of a control freak about that. It will be fun. There are loads of cities I’ve not been to before – I haven’t been to Norwich before so that will be exciting.
Lady Macbeth is treated as an arch villain, but do you feel that there are redeeming characteristics about her?
There is no question that they step over a line into a really dark awful place. I think the fact that this production is set in this world where we are all just grasping at surviving helps. They are often portrayed as politicians who just can’t wait to get more power and it is definitely not that in this production. With power comes security in this production. With power comes maybe an electricity generator and some protection from gangs and militia. And there’s another goal for Lady Macbeth – Macbeth’s always at war and if he becomes king then he will be at home. He’ll be running things with her, so there’s a huge objective of just having him with her. He is the light of her life and the only reason she really continues to live. It’s a protective instinct. If you lost your children in a war you probably wouldn’t want to have more unless you had the financial security to look after them, so I think becoming king and queen means she’s going to have more children. She would be ready to, so I think that is very much in their story. Then when she loses him and he doesn’t want to come to bed because he can’t sleep, then she falls apart.
How did you come into theatre?
I did National Youth Theatre. I was at quite an academic school so I wanted to be an actor at school but I wasn’t encouraged, and then I did National Youth Theatre in my holidays and that was my turning point where I met like-minded souls and I explored it and I met people who said ‘you need to do this’. You need outside older figures to tell you sometimes ‘go on, do this I think you going to do well’. Then I went to drama school auditions without telling anyone and got into RADA. So that was my journey. It’s snakes and ladders this business so I have no illusions. This is great – it’s a really exciting moment in my career. I am really lucky.