Interview: Macbeth and Lady Macbeth
Parkville Station (PS): Let’s start with a quick test – see how good you are: can you complete these Macbeth lines for me: Cannot be ill, cannot be good, if ill, why hath it given me earnest of success, commencing in a — ?
Martin Hoggart (MH): — truth.
PS: Glamis thou art, and Cawdor; and shalt be
What thou art — ?
Sen Wagaarachchi (SW): — promised.
PS: It is concluded. Banquo, thy soul’s flight,
If it find heaven, must find it —?
MH: — out tonight.
PS: Yet who would have thought the old man
to have had so much — ?
SW: — blood in him.
PS: Damnit. That was good. I was hoping you’d get at least one wrong! Okay, so let’s start with: who are you guys, and what’s your history in theatre?
SW: I’m playing Lady Macbeth, and this is my second play that I’ve done with the university. Before that, I’d only just done Year 12 Drama, so it’s all quite new to me.
PS: What was your first play?
SW: It was a Brecht play — The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui — that was the first play I did, and I was “whoa, that was scary!”. That was in year 12. And I also did Triptych – I was in Terrorism, which was written by Jean Tong, who writes the coda for Macbeth.
MH: Jean is the writer for Macdeath, with is a little addition.
I’m Martin, this is my third or fourth show at Melbourne Uni. Previously to this, I did The Darkroom with FOW and The Nun and the Highwayman with Kate Weston and Simon Farley. I’ve been doing theatre and performing since I was 13 or 14, way up in the alpine area of Canberra. I worked with the Canberra youth theatre for a number of years. This year I had the opportunity to work with the Australian Theatre for Young People in Sydney, and this is my first Shakespeare, so this is exciting!
PS: Is there something you think you did in your auditions that got you the roles of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth?
SW: I really have no idea! Initially, I was not going to audition for it at all because I thought: “Shakespeare! No way can I do Shakespeare”. But now that I’ve gotten into it, it’s not that different from anything else. It’s tricky, but I feel like we have this distance that we put between between Shakespeare and other things.
MH: It’s just a harder version of everything else.
I think for me, Petra (the director) did actually ask me to do my monologue again, but as a drag queen, and I think that may have got me the role, eventually.
PS: Are there any times you’ve read a line in Macbeth and thought: “I don’t know how to act that because I don’t know what it means”?
MH: Every day! The whole thing is that – the whole thing is like that. The other thing is, you think you know what something means, and then you read it again and realise: I’ve been doing this all wrong, this doesn’t mean that at all!
SW: And there’s so many different interpretations and ways you can take things.
MH: For Macbeth, one of the hardest lines I think is: “that but this blow / Might be the be-all and the end-all here, / But here, upon this bank and shoal of time, / We’d jump the life to come”. [shrugs] And you almost know what it means, but you don’t. I was sitting in front of my script for two hours last night trying to figure out what that means, and I just couldn’t figure it out.
PS: Is Macbeth your favourite Shakespearean play, or is it just the one that came up in UHT’s calendar? Have you always wanted to be in Macbeth?
SW: I’d never even thought about it, honestly.
MH: Partly it just popped up, and I thought “this would be great to audition for”, but I think slowly, as I’m doing it, I’m breaking down the mythos around Macbeth, the reverence that everyone has for him, and I’m just learning to appreciate it on my own terms. There’s so much written about Macbeth, and every actor under the sun has wanted to play Macbeth, and everyone feels this way towards this play. When you get a chance to do it on your own, you can break that all down, and appreciate the play from your own perspective.
PS: Do you draw inspiration for Macbeth and Lady Macbeth from anyone in particular?
SW: I think we tried to take the text for what it was, and take it from there. What we’ve discovered is that it’s very much a relationship that’s built on love.
MH: I totally agree with you, and in addition to that, all of the documented Macbeths you see are adult actors, they’re actors that are at least 30. I think the age really affects Macbeth, but in particular Lady Macbeth, the fact that she doesn’t have a child, the fact that she’s given suck, when you contextualise it with nineteen year olds, it really changes. There’s a new dimension that’s opened up, and what’s liberating about that is there’s so few documented Macbeths where the actors are as young as we are, so we can apply our own life experience.
Having said that, I really love Ian Mackellen’s Macbeth. He did a good Macbeth.
PS: As well as you guys being young, it looks like the setting might be different? Are you set in ancient Scotland but in modern clothes?
MH: We have not talked about the external imaginative context of this play at all. One of the things that’s great about Shakespeare’s plays is that the way we perform them now, they can be performed in their own world — they don’t have to be performed in ancient Greece, or feudal England, or feudal Scotland or whatever, they can take place in their own world. When you establish those rules and establish what goes on, you don’t really need the bells and whistles to tell you this is Scotland or anything like that. The places don’t mean anything, because that’s not what’s important to the play.
PS: Sen – Lady Macbeth is a crazy psychopathic bitch. Does that come naturally?
SW: Yeah — I kind of wondered: why have you cast me in this role? What are you saying about me? But looking more deeply into it, she’s so in love and so devoted to her husband and she wants the best for their relationship, she wants that more than anything. The fact she sells herself to the devil or evil spirits, that’s kind of the measure she goes to change herself in order to undertake these acts that she wouldn’t do otherwise. It’s like she’s changing herself in order to get what she wants.
PS: Do you think she’d do it for herself if she got to be Queen of Scotland?
SW: I think yes, there’s definitely an element of that.
SW: But mostly I reckon, it’s for Macbeth. But I think it’s also for herself.
MH: Yeah, OK — that’s up to you.
PS: Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are both terrible and good for different reasons. Who do you think’s terrible, or worse?
MH: Oh fuck, that’s a good question. I think Lady Macbeth is someone that just does it. She’s the one that just pushes him over the edge, she’s like “I know you’re not going to do this, you need to be a man and do this”, and he’s just freaking out and going “uh, uh, I can’t do this, what if I kill him and get found out and blah blah blah?”. If it wasn’t for Lady Macbeth, the play wouldn’t have happened.
SW: Lady Macbeth’s very much a carpe diem, seize the day, let’s go for it, the time is now, we’re never going to get this opportunity — that kind of lady.
MH: I think Macbeth is the opposite, he’s just fickle— just like a fickle little baby that can’t make up his mind, and he sort of lets his imagination run away with him. That’s his downfall.
PS: You do a fight scene in the show — have you learnt any cool things while rehearsing?
MH: We had Lyndall Grant, who is a fight choreographer, one of the major fight choreographers in Australia and in England — she’s worked with MoCap and fencing and all this stuff.. She just came in and taught us how to fight. It was really cool.
The really interesting thing about it was that it was exactly like learning a Shakespere script, but instead of words, it was actions. So the way you treat it is exactly the way you treat texts. It was really, really awesome.
PS: How long does it take you to memorise your lines, and how do you do it?
SW: I do not have a trick, I don’t even know how it happens. I reckon it’s just repetition, and sitting in front of the script for ages.
MH: I’m the opposite. I can’t learn a script until I’ve got it on the floor and I can see in my head about how it pans out, what the action is and what the actors are doing. I can’t learn it until I know what physically they’re doing.
PS: What are you studying, and what’s your future career plan? Are you moving into acting or is it a hobby?
MH: I’m a Lit major. I’m doing Shakespeare and Performance this semester, and Modern and Contemporary Drama, so I’m just drowning in Shakespeare — I’m almost peak Shakespeare. I would really like to study acting, I think that’d be really fun. Even doing this three times a week is just so much fun. It’s studying, but you get to study on your feet. That’s what’s great about it, so I’d love to study literature and then study acting.
SW: It’s just something I really love. I’m first year Arts, so this semester I’m kind of doing everything. I was thinking of doing the JD afterwards — that’s why I came to Melbourne — but that’s all changing. I was thinking of double majoring in Politics and International Studies and Criminology. This semester, I’m doing Modern and Contemporary Literature, Philosophy, Graffiti to Terrorism and Australian Politics. So a bit of a mixed bag, I’m a bit confused at the moment, but we’ll find out.
PS: How do you fit in such an intense rehearsal schedule?
SW: Don’t ask me. I’ve got four assignments coming up — I’ve got two due next week and two due the week after.
MH: They all happen to coincide with the run of the play.
PS: What is the one character you’ve always wanted to play?
SW: I never thought I’d get to play Lady Macbeth — that’s pretty cool.
MH: I really wanted to play Alan from Equus. I think that would be pretty wild, a pretty crazy experience. That’s the Daniel Radcliffe play where he gets naked with a horse.
Macbeth is running at Union House Theatre from 16th to 24th September.