Macbeth at the Albery - The Inside Story

Last Update: 13 November 2002

"It will be rain tonight": Barnaby Kay ponders Banquo's fate

Barnaby Kay last worked with the director, Ed Hall, eight years ago when Ed was an assistant director at the RSC. Barnaby is considerably younger than most actors who are cast as Banquo.  

How are you playing Banquo?
The traditional view of Banquo is that he's the opposite of Macbeth - that Macbeth becomes all that is evil and Banquo is all that is good - but I didn't want to play him like that. He's a warrior just like Macbeth, a killer of men. Given that I'm young for the part I'm playing him as a general who has risen quickly through the ranks and is able to command the respect of his elders. In his soliloquyBanquo wishes the Weird Sisters' prophesies to work for him as they have for Macbeth ("may they not...set me up in hope?") so it's by no means cut and dried where Banquo's ambition might take him. In our production the soliloquycomes at the end of the first half so the audience leave for the interval not sure what Banquo might do to Macbeth on his arrival in Scone.

What have you discovered about Banquo's relationship with nature?
Banquo looks upon nature at various times in the play and sees a deeper meaning. When he arrives at Macbeth's castle, a place he would have known very well, he is struck by the abundance of house martins nesting there ("this bird hath made his..procreant cradle"). They have taken on a darker significance, becoming almost like crows circling the castle. When his son, Fleance, wakes from a nightmare Banquo notices that there are no stars in the sky ("the candles are all out") so in trying to calm the boy down he's also trying to calm himself, clutching the boy for comfort. On the night of his death Banquo notices the signs of a storm and sees this as another prophesy . "It will be rain tonight" is the last thing he says before he is murdered and in this production he's holding Fleance's hand as they look out towards the sky together.

What is Banquo's relationship with Macbeth ?
He is already feeling uneasy when Macbeth enters the scene with Fleance. As the lights cut out, Banquo inadvertently draws a knife on his friend but when the lights return the tension remains. Macbeth promises reward for Banquo ("if you shall cleave to my consent") and in this moment the friendship is finished. Banquo knows then that Macbeth has ambitions to make himself King, to fulfil the prophesy one way or another, and this is what separates their personalities - just how far Macbeth is prepared to go. Duncan is killed that night and when Macbeth confesses to killing the murderers ("yet I do repent me...that I did kill them") Banquo is certain Macbeth has taken the step he feared.

When do you think Macbeth decides to murder Banquo?
It is Banquo's attitude before the banquet that actually decides his fate. Macbeth is testing him while asking apparently straightforward questions ("is't far you ride?") but Banquo's answers are deliberately flippant ("as far as will fill up the time..."). He's making it clear their friendship is over, that they have nothing more to say to each other. In our playing of the scene Banquo's sarcasm encourages the court to laugh with him and this "winds up" Macbeth to such an extent that he decides to murder both Banquo and his son that night. There is a false exit for Banquo when Macbeth stops him on a half-line* with "goes Fleance with you?" and he realises at that moment that his son is in danger.

How are you playing the ghost?
The ghost is Banquo at his purest with all his ability to gloss and keep things hidden stripped away. He is very conscious and knows exactly what he is doing to Macbeth; it's his revenge. There's a moment in our staging where the ghost gets up to leave while Macbeth is saying to him "If thou canst nod speak too" at which point the ghost spins on him as if to say: "Are you challenging me to talk? Do you really want me to speak to you?" An idea from rehearsals which may not be kept in the show is that we see Macbeth's victims living as ghosts in his everyday life throughout the second half. If Banquo's ghost stays onstage he will have a look on his face as if to say: "I'm here to stay - I'm always going to be a part of your life because of what you've done."

*half-line is the term used to describe a line of dialogue that is only half of a normal verse line and usually signals an interruption next>>>  

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