Ahead of the Macbeth season, Geraldine Hakewill tells us why she loves everything about Shakespeare.
What is Macbeth about?
I think Macbeth is about human ambition, and what happens when power becomes corrupted. It examines what happens when ambition is used for personal gain rather than for the greater good. It’s a parable exploring the darker parts of human beings, and a warning for an audience to be wary of those parts of themselves. All the characters are very human and very fallible in this play; even the good characters have their flaws. There’s a strong message to be careful with how your ambition manifests.
How are you exploring the characterisation of Lady Macbeth?
I’ve been exploring where her personal ambition comes from; what compels her to persuade Macbeth do something so terrible and unnatural? You get little clues that Shakespeare has left, like a breadcrumb trail, but you don’t get a lot of detailed history about Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s relationship. It is quite a good one and it’s clear that they love each other very much. I think it’s really interesting that theirs is one of the better relationships in Shakespeare’s canon.
I’ve been really interested in this idea that is present in the text they had a child that is no longer alive. The death of a child is an enormous thing to happen in anyone’s life. Lady Macbeth is so reckless with her ambition, it’s like she’s got nothing to lose. Perhaps she knows that she can’t have kids anymore? Perhaps they have tried since the first child passed away and nothing has happened? Perhaps she’s decided she doesn’t want any more because losing the first was too painful?
In the world that Shakespeare set this play, women don’t have a function other than being mothers or wives. It’s hard to get away from that even setting the story in a contemporary context because Lady Macbeth and Lady Macduff don’t do anything other than be wives and mothers. I think that’s really interesting in terms of what drives Lady Macbeth. She has ambition, she has intellect, she has passion, and she doesn’t have anything to channel this into. She has no profession and no children to invest her ambition in.
The pain and the grief of losing a child and how that would distort your psychology is also something I’ve been exploring. She’s very often described as an evil villain, but I think that’s really limiting when you’re playing a character. If I thought of her in that simplistic, black and white way, there would be no detail in my work and no hooks for an audience to connect to so that they can go on the journey of the play with her. I have to find what makes her human, what corrupted her and made her so lacking in compassion or human decency. What emotional scars does she carry that have created the woman you see walk on stage reading Macbeth’s letter and voicing her desire to make him kill the King?
Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have most of the soliloquies in the play, which means the audience are led into their psychology and inner thoughts more so than other characters. I like to think that this means that the audience become partially responsible for what these characters go through. They are the witnesses to their decision making. Hopefully that means they can connect with them even when they do horrific things.
She’s really tricky and she’s really terrifying but I am enjoying the challenge so much.
How do you process the darker themes of this play when you’re not on stage?
It’s a scary play. It’s been helpful for me to remind myself that we’re doing a psychological thriller. Shakespeare often gets lumped into its own genre, but it’s a supernatural/psychological thriller, and in some moments verging on a horror story. The actual frights and scares and physicality can be quite cathartic and fun to play if you really let yourself go into it. It’s the psychological stuff that can get draining night after night.
I had an acting teacher at drama school who – when we did a production that was dealing with heavy material – made us all carry something on us while we were performing, like a necklace or a letter or some object that we would metaphorically “put” the feelings of the show onto. Once the show finished, we destroyed that object in some way, by burning it or throwing it into the ocean, or in whatever way we wanted. I think I might do this with this show. I also like that this ritual feels like it ties into the superstition of the play.
What do you love about the world of Shakespeare?
I love everything about Shakespeare. My first experience of Shakespeare was A Midsummer Night’s Dream in my first year of high school. I played Titania, who gets some great poetry, and I remember thinking how magical the language felt in my mouth. It’s like speaking another language, and once you unlock the key you’re able to communicate thoughts and feelings that you can’t in the colloquial everyday English that we speak to each other in our lives.
I started seeing a lot of Bell Shakespeare productions throughout high school and they really inspired me to want to be an actor. Every character in Shakespeare goes through such extremes from whoa to go. I loved the trope of women pretending to be men. I loved the mythology of it, like in Macbeth there is a lot of mythology around the omens of death, like the raven calls. At drama school, for my 21st birthday, the whole year level got me the First Folio which I still treasure, although this is the first time I’ve had a chance to use it since graduating. I played Juliet at drama school, but I haven’t done a Shakespeare since. I’m thrilled that my first professional Shakespeare gig is Lady Macbeth.
Macbeth plays at Southbank Theatre from 5 June. Book now.