Macbeth at the Albery - The Inside Story

Last Update: 13 November 2002

"He has no children": Mark Bazeley on playing Macduff

Mark Bazeley has played Brick in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof in the theatre and has a successful TV career. Macbeth was the first ever play he saw when he was at school.  

How do you see the character of Macduff?
He isn't the kind of character I've done before. I've played lots of dysfunctional, self loathing people but Macduff is a good man who comes into the play with everything intact. He seems to have it all at the beginning - a happy family, the respect of his peers, a good relationship with the King - and within the context of the play his struggle is Scotland's struggle. What happens to Macduff might be happening to any family in the country and so he acts as a barometer for Macbeth's tyranny ("the dead man's knell is scarce asked for who").

How are you playing the discovery of Duncan's body?
Shakespeare has written "O horror, horror, horror" as the other half of Lennox's line suggesting that Macduff cuts across the conversation, so as soon as I hit the stage I start speaking - this way the entrance has dramatic impact. Macduff is speaking softly, in a state of shock, as if the words are not enough to describe the enormity of his feelings and he has stopped moving, physically unable to take in what has happened. Then "real time" kicks in, his voice breaking like a damburst with "Awake, Awake!", and his body lurches into action.

How are you making the scene between Malcolm and Macduff work?
This scene is a matter of life and death, it has so much bearing on the state of the nation, and Macduff is sweating "blood" to rouse Malcolm out of his inertia. He desperately needs to get Duncan’s bloodline back on the Scottish throne (he speaks of a whole country "howling" in grief), and has to believe he's going to achieve this so that the scene comes full circle when Malcolm actually refuses him. The religious imagery Malcolm uses is the straw that breaks the camel's back ("I would pour the sweet milk of concord into hell") and Macduff, like his country, is left without hope ("O Scotland, Scotland!"). Malcolm, on the other hand, plays "devil's advocate" with utter conviction until he is satisfied Macduff can be trusted.

How have you been playing the moment when you hear of the slaughter?
I think Macduff knows as soon as Ross enters that bad news is coming but he's in a state of denial. When he hears the news his reaction is very still, giving nothing away ("ne'er pull your hat upon your brow" is metaphorical). "He has no children" comes out before he has time to censor himself and in that moment he is prepared to kill like for like. It's a chilling remark that comes from the gut, motivated by raw emotion. "Did you say all?" follows immediately on the half-line and is a completely new thought. I've been trying to put my hand over Ross's mouth to stop the answer even though I'm compelled to ask the question. While Macduff struggles with his emotions, Malcolm tries to steady him ("Dispute it like a man!") and Macduff's response - "but I must also feel it as a man" - is honest and moving.

How did you prepare for this scene in rehearsal?
I tend to get all the "blood and guts" on the floor early on during rehearsal and then rein it in later if necessary so I started by being very physical with Ross - putting my hands in his mouth, getting my hands round his neck, shaking him and so on. These moments of extremity in theatre are when an actor’s choices are wide open and providing you're true to the situation almost anything can happen. It's the actor’s job to bring his unique imagination to the moment and use the script to channel it. I try to leave things open for as long as possible and then work off what I'm getting from the other actors on any given performance. I know how I'll come into the scene but from then on it's all "up for grabs", that way the moment can be real and spontaneous.

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