Macbeth is "really a love story" says Chichester's Lady M, Dervla Kirwan

Dervla Kirwan - photo Manuel Harlan
Dervla Kirwan - photo Manuel Harlan

Is Lady Macbeth evil?

“Well, plotting regicide is pretty up there,” says Dervla Kirwan who is our Lady Macbeth on the Chichester Festival Theatre stage from September 21-October 26.

“She has got problems. She is going to need a lot of therapy! But you have got to remember that women in power have always been perceived as evil. But, yes, everyone has a choice, and yes, she has built Macbeth up to be this man… But as an actor, it is not really for me to worry about whether she is evil or not. Evil is a bit of a cop-out word. She certainly knows what she is doing. But you look at the whole wider thing about the children they never had. We are now in this post-Freudian world where we have a real understanding of trauma and paranoia.”

But the fact that she had a child and lost it (“I have given suck, and know How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me”) seems key: “I think that’s when the core of the rot set in. Women back then were only valued as breeder and she hasn’t got children… and Macbeth, well, he can’t give her children, but he can make her queen. It’s a love story really!”

Rehearsals have been tough and exciting, Dervla says, with the play itself “the gift that keeps on giving”: “The language is so great, and it is one of my favourite Shakespeare plays.

"And I think we are creating something very interesting. It’s hard to talk too much about it. I don’t want to incur hubris! But certainly this is a very hard-working and committed company of people. It was very much on my wish list. I was very lucky to work with John (Simm – Macbeth) on a TV show, and I was saying to him ‘What are you going to do next? What would you do if you could just wave a wand and it happened?’ He told me he wanted to do Macbeth. He had always wanted to do it ever since he had done Hamlet with (director) Paul (Miller). And so we started talking about doing Macbeth together. He said to me ‘Would you like to do it?’ and I said I would love to, and (CFT artistic director) Daniel Evans was very open about us bringing it here, which was very brave after the magnificent Rupert Goold production here a few years ago. But then again you just think how many Hamlets and how many Macbeths there have been.

“But you always want to bring your own ideas to it. You have got to create something from the beginning and ignore all the previous eyes. I am not going to allow all those wonderful ghosts from the past haunt me.

“I always come to work with as much preparation as possible. I am always very hard working in that respect, but then I think you have to leave a lot of that outside the rehearsal room when you get there and be as creative as you possibly can in reaction to the other actors. I will have inhabited a character for months before I come to work. I like to feel I know it, but then you respond to what is happening.”

And therein lies the bravery.

“What is lovely in this business, I think, is that whether I sink or swim, at least I have had the courage to try. That’s what I love about this business. There is the failure and the critics saying negative things about what you are doing, but there is that great baptism of fire when you go into the rehearsal room, when you go into the actors’ gym… and that’s when you have got to have the courage to say ‘If I fail, then I fail… but at least I have tried.’”

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