Katherine MacAlister interviews Michael Nardone about playing Macbeth

"We are all tempted. It’s what makes us human. It’s how you react that matters and we can all relate to that,” Michael Nardone says.

“And the more violent Macbeth becomes, the more he regrets it and the more he spirals out of control.

“But then it is a tragedy, so it was never going to have a happy ending!” he adds in his unmistakeable Fife drawl.

To star in one of the most successful adaptations of Macbeth of all time is one thing, to lead and tour it another. But to bring the Scottish tragedy back to your home town of Edinburgh, as he did late last year, is surely another thing entirely?

“It is so exhilarating,” Michael says, shaking his head in disbelief. “To be playing Macbeth in a top production like this is a big thing for me. It’s why you become an actor.

“So it’s a massive pressure, it’s not for the faint-hearted and it is relentless and exhausting – you have to find your inner reserves.

“But I was ready for it. I was the right age. You have to bring something to the part, some weight, experience... you have to have some life behind you.”

As Rufus Norris’s Shakespearean tragedy continues to wind its way towards Oxford from London, courtesy of The National, it brings with it the controversy which has surrounded the production since it opened in February last year.

Even the critics were at odds with its modern staging, short running time, cavalier editing and exacerbated bloodthirstiness.

It has a dance rave, it’s leading characters have regional accents and wear modern combat gear more akin to Rambo than anything Elizabethan, and the witches are little more than extras.

The purists were up in arms, the academics incredulous, Shakespeare’s fans furious at the glaring omissions.

But there were bums on seats, packed auditoriums, sell out nights, and a new generation of curious onlookers in the audience. Everyone was talking about Macbeth. It was the show to see.

Which is why Macbeth is now touring the country, visiting the big, commercial theatres, and opening at Oxford’s New Theatre rather than the Playhouse on Tuesday, for a week-long run.

So does Michael worry about its reception here? “No. Why would I? I just go on stage every night and do my best.

“Look, Shakespeare can be stuffy and generic but this version just feels right and fitting for today, more appropriate to our diverse country.

“It’s robust, it has muscles, meat, its naturalised. Rufus has breathed life into it. That’s why we want as many people to come and see it as possible, especially young people because they will recognise, get it and relate to it.

“Yes it’s raw and dark but this production is continuing to create a discussion and debate about Shakespeare, that’s long overdue.

“So what if Rufus has taken a lot of the extraneous material? A lot of it is jargon or waffle anyway. This is about the kernel, the epicentre, about the essential narrative and how to make it accessible by getting right to the heart of it.

“So yes some characters are missing or moulded together but there is good reason for that. It’s not just for the sake of it.”

“50,000 school children are coming to see Macbeth on tour and we want them to understand the play, because your audience is your key component and the most important person in the room. Children are a great barometer. You know pretty quickly if they are in or out,” Michael laughs “and so far there have been no disruptions.”

But what of its epic brutality? Isn’t that inappropriate for such a young audience? “It’s only a reflection of what’s happening around the world; beheadings, wars......it doesn’t take anything away from the narrative because you still have to tell the whole story.”

“And if we are throwing out the rule book at the same time, then it’s working.”

And what of the task itself. Has playing Macbeth as a Scot, lived up to expectations? “Yes and more. It’s such an intense part but when Rufus asked me I didn’t think twice even though I haven’t acted on a Scottish stage for quite a while. So to bring Macbeth back to its home turf, was an offer I couldn’t refuse,” Michael says.

Having also recently worked on The Night Manager, TV’s Care about the NHS, new film Tulip Fever with Alicia Vikander, and BBC3s Clique. His star is inexorably rising.

“Yes things have been ticking along quite nicely. I can’t complain. Even when kneeling down and my knees are killing me, I just have to remind myself. I’m playing Macbeth.”



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