Macbeth at the Albery - The Inside Story

Last Update: 13 November 2002

"A murderous Juliet": Sam Bond rehearses Lady Macbeth

Sam Bond first played Lady Macbeth at drama school twenty years ago. Since then she has played Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, Hermione in The Winter'sTale and Rosalind in As You Like It.  

How did you work on the part to start with?
The first week of rehearsals was just with me and Sean which gave the two of us the chance to get to know each other gently before the rest of the cast arrived; for all the wonderful ways of describing Lady Macbeth’s marriage it can never be described as gentle (loving, sexy, passionate and tempestuous perhaps but never gentle) so this week was great for "breaking the ice" between us. In the following week when suddenly all these new people invaded our space it was very hard not to feel got at which was probably quite a good thing for the play!

What have you discovered about Lady Macbeth's relationship with her husband?
Sean suggested starting the first scene lying on the bed and, given that this is a couple who can't really keep their hands off each other, that has changed things quite substantially. It's given a different flavour to the whole of the first half because it's made the sexual energy between them very strong. We visited a psychologist who talked about the sexuality of murder, the sexual high that most murders are committed on, so that if you link this into their relationship - abandon guilt for sexual excitement - you open a completely new door. I've been keen for her not to be just evil - I've never understood the "evil woman" take on her - but suddenly it seemed that you need to let go of your own moral judgements to find the character. She's not evil but she can be amoral and playing that is hugely liberating - I told the director I felt like a murderous Juliet!

When does she start to go mad?
The turning point is when she listens to her husband’s public description of Duncan's dead body ("his gashed a breach in nature"). Shakespeare suggests she collapse here and this is sometimes played as a feigned response to Macbeth's dissembling but we decided it should be a genuine collapse to mark the moment she has to face reality. From this point on she begins to lose control and (just as insanely) he tries to control everything which is what leads to the other murders. In his move to take control he decides not to share anything with her so not only is she struggling with her own demons but she also fears for what he might be doing. Before the banquet Macbeth dismisses her along with the rest of the court which is something that has never happened before and she can't understand why.

How have you approached the "sleepwalking scene"?
We talked to a sleep psychologist who said that much of what Shakespeare has written is medically accurate. Apparently unless we sleep in darkness we stay in a shallow form of sleep and our inner clock has no rest. Lady Macbeth appears with a light and is described as having "light by her continually" so we can deduce that her sleeping patterns have been generally distracted. There's also something called "night terrors" which are a result of some deep-seated anxiety. The victim seems to wake in the middle of a nightmare but can't actually be woken until the nightmare has run its course. At this stage we haven't decided whether Lady Macbeth is having "night terrors" or not but it might be an effective and distressing way of playing the scene.

How does the "lost son" affect Lady Macbeth?
The loss of your own child must be enormous. In the world of the play the child mortality rate would have been high but I don’t think it is any more comforting to know that other people's children have aIso died. I think that being childless leaves them both free to put their energies into each other in a way that can’t happen if you have a child to look after. When Lady Macbeth uses the famous image of dashing the child's brains out to persuade Macbeth to stick to their plan it's not because she's an awful person but because she has to think of a parallel that’s going to be as weighty as killing a king - and that's killing your own child.

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