Globe shines new light on easy-to-get-wrong ‘Macbeth’


Now playing at The Old Globe’s Festival Outdoor Theatre, Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”’ with all its horrors, tragedies, darkness, betrayal and madness, has garnered favorable reviews for the cast, direction and design.

Jonathan Cake is Macbeth, a role he said he always wanted to play.

“I had opportunities but they never worked out,” Cake said. “I’m glad, because this is one of those experiences that has felt wonderfully uncomplicated for such a difficult, complex, famously- easy-to-get-wrong play. Maybe it’s do with time, as my life is getting shorter. Shakespeare’s very generous to his male characters, giving them 20 or 30 windows that run throughout this play. The aging ranges from a guy who still wants to be a warrior with ambition for himself and his wife and his marriage at the beginning of the play, but who then becomes this withered, aged man steeped in horror, loneliness and disappointment. He says, ‘my way of life is fall’n into the sear, the yellow leaf; and that which should accompany old age.’”

Brian Kulick directs, and Cake said he was excited to work with him for the first time.

“He’s wonderful and he made me feel like a real collaborator,” Cake said. “Any person who plays Macbeth has a bulk of the responsibility every evening, and speaks a higher proportion of the lines than any other Shakespearean character. There are certain times in my life that I’ve done Shakespeare when I felt strangely sort of book-proof. That’s because of the words. Somehow you find yourself living inside the words, and I stopped worrying about whether people liked it or didn’t like it, because the words carry you. I had that before when I played ‘Much Ado About Nothing,’ and in ‘Coriolanus.’ Now, I feel it is a wonderful sense of being transported by these extraordinary words, and I feel privileged to turn up every night and live inside the play.”

Many who’ve seen the production have commented on the chemistry between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth (Marsha Stephanie Blake) even among the many weird and gruesome goings-on.

“Ian McClellan hit it on the head when he described them as ‘the happiest couple in Shakespeare,’” Cake said. “Part of the tragedy for an audience to feel is the spike of horror at their separation. Then there is the increasing isolation and loneliness of this man. I think we should feel that had they stayed together as jolly happy murderers, they could have almost been content to the end, because at the beginning they are so in love and endlessly optimistic. I’m really lucky to have an actress like Marsha to do this with. She’s very complementary and a little spitfire, and I’m like a big kid. Our rhythms match each other, so it’s been great fun working with her.”

Cake has a favorite scene that takes place after Act Four.

“I have a challenge that I have to get through quickly, and I don’t know how to do it quickly. Macbeth comes back on the stage by his bed ravaged by appalling dreams. His life is gone so far down the drain that he now needs to be close to the bed at all times in case he is able to snatch a few minutes of sleep. He’s become like a homeless person in these terrible pajamas, and he’s ravaged by insomnia cutting people’s faces and waving a gun around like the unholy mixture of Joseph Stalin and Howard Hughes.

“That’s my favorite scene because it contains appalling moments of self-knowledge and these acts of wildness and beautiful poetry. But it has to happen at a fast pace because the play at this time in the evening cannot slow down, especially in an outdoor theater like this one, because it gets cooler and people get anxious to leave.”

The Old Globe’s incredible design team really amazed Cake, he said. “I was astonished by the combination of the director of the company of The Old Globe and its extraordinary backup team. Their technical staff is second to none. I worked all over the world and this play has been a wonderfully, uncomplicated and delightful experience.”

If only Shakespeare could see it now.

IF YOU GO: “Macbeth,” plays through July 24 at The Old Globe Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park, San Diego. Tickets from $29. (619) 234-5623.