The Shakespeare Project’s Macbeth: “What choices does he make to cross that line?”

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A couple of weeks ago, The Shakespeare Project confirmed full casting for their forthcoming production of Macbeth, which is due to run at Salomons Estate in Tunbridge Wells throughout November.

Leading the cast are artistic director Peter Basham (Macbeth), Louise Jameson (Queen Duncan) and Aaron Sidwell (Macduff). With the venue set and rehearsals on the horizon, the three of them kindly took the time to answer some pressing Shakespearean questions…

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Peter Basham (Macbeth)
Photo credit: Rosie Marks Photography

What aspect of this project are you most looking forward to?

PB: The idea to set up this company has been percolating for about five years, so it’s very tricky to narrow down what aspect or moment of this project that I am most looking forward to. For me personally, I have been, from the outset, excited by all the little (and large!) cogs that come together and work in tandem to create and grow a new theatre company like The Shakespeare Project.

Every stepping stone on the journey towards this production of Macbeth: taking the leap to build a brand new professional theatre company, practically stumbling upon our spectacular venue, the generous donations we received for our Kickstarter campaign, sourcing and enlisting an incredible creative team, the Arts Council funding, finding our talented ensemble, the enthusiasm of our younger audiences and their teachers (from schools across the South East) who have already secured tickets, the support from local business enterprises in helping us build something innovative and vital in our local community… All of this has already played such a huge part in giving me SO much to look forward on the road ahead.

Any good thing is ultimately the sum of all its many parts and so, as we embark on rehearsing and then performing this remarkable text, I suppose what I am most looking forward to is exploring and creating the dark and hellish world of the Scottish Play and opening up that world to an audience who undoubtedly deserve great theatre on their doorstep.

LJ: It’s local. It’s innovative. It’s an amazing space and an amazing concept. I shall be working with a young, vibrant, imaginative, talented team and it is arguably Shakespeare’s most accessible play. We are involving ourselves with local schools, offering workshops. There is nothing not to like about this project.

AS: Well firstly, to be part of a band new company is always something special. There’s an energy and excitement that stems from the top and drives the work home in a way that you don’t always see. There’ll be fresh ideas and some trial and error, but that is what makes collaboration so wonderful! Being able to come back and work in Tunbridge Wells professionally as well is such a huge thing for me. I really felt I stepped up my youth development in the area being part of a youth theatre school here, but also having worked with lots of the am dram companies here in my later teens. Then obviously there’s the opportunity to be part of such a brilliant piece of our cultural history with this play. So many of our greatest actors have had a part to play in making this play what it is and I feel very lucky to be able to have a go.

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Photo credit: Rosie Marks Photography

What is your favourite line or moment in The Scottish Play?

PB: There is so much to discover in this play. I think for me the play is very much about agency. How much do we have? How much is dependent on fate, what is the nature of free will? The play is very much like a Greek tragedy in which the age old question is asked ‘What must I do?’. The play explores the themes of Good and Evil, how good people can be corrupted and seduced by power, status or ideology to perform unspeakably evil acts.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn said “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either – but right through every human heart – and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years.” I think that in the current political climate it’s important that this is idea is explored. In act one Macbeth is a hero and by act 3 he is a tyrant. How does this happen, what choices does he make to cross that line?

Currently, my favourite line is:

“Light thickens, and the crow
Makes wing to th’ rooky wood.
Good things of day begin to droop and drowse;
Whiles night’s black agents to their preys do rouse.
Thou marvel’st at my words: but hold thee still.
Things bad begun make strong themselves by ill.”

LJ: That’s a really difficult one. I suppose I would have to say “Will these hands ne’er be clean?”.

AS: I think the whole idea of taking a very decent moral man and showing you how easily he can be corrupted is the overriding thing for me. The idea that any of us are capable and forcing you to ask the question of ‘what would you do?’ is what makes this play so unique. We’ve seen so many huge parts of pop culture recreate this and follow this idea – think, for example, of Breaking Bad. We’re all capable! I think my favourite line has always been “something wicked this way comes” as it truly encapsulates the piece in a sentence.

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Louise Jameson (Queen Duncan)
Photo credit: Rosie Marks Photography

Do you find learning Shakespeare easier or harder than ‘regular’ scripts?

PB: When it comes to learning dialogue it really does depend on the kind of text you’re tackling – but I do find that, with Shakespeare, there is an inherent rhythm and poetry in his work that finds its way into the body. It’s why many of us, when put on the spot, can usually quote or reel off some line of the Bard’s!

LJ: Easier. They are written with a heartbeat in mind, so you you have rhythm and literation and clear thought patterns to help you on your way.

AS: Yes and no. I think you have to be very strict with yourself. There’s no allowance for abbreviation or improvisation with the text however the rhythm of it is something which can actually help you. The meter gives the clue as to whether you’re right or wrong when learning the lines.

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Photo source: The Shakespeare Project

If you could play any other Shakespeare character (regardless of gender), who would it be?

PB: I’d love to play Cade one day – the ‘rabble rouser’ in Henry VI Pt 2 – as he is a fellow man of Kent! Although, like any working actor, I’m usually just happy to have a job!

LJ: I was just talking about this the other day! I think I would have to say Prospero; although The Tempest is a difficult play, it does contain some of the most beautiful poetry in the English language.

AS: There’s so many! Obviously Hamlet, Macbeth himself, Iago, Mercutio… If I was able to gender swap a role though it would have to be Lady Macbeth. She has a fantastic full circle journey!

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Macbeth runs at Salomons Estate (Tunbridge Wells) from 5-24 November 2019. Tickets are available online.

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