Director Sam Gold makes Shakespeare come alive for contemporary audiences with exciting productions led by stars who are also expert classical actors. In the must-see event of Broadway’s comeback season, Daniel Craig will headline Gold’s revival of Macbeth, opposite Ruth Negga as the title king’s ambitious wife. This propulsive tale of murder, marriage, and the price of power begins a 15-week limited engagement March 29 at the Longacre Theatre.
“This is the fourth of the major [Shakespeare] tragedies I’ve done — plays that grip the audience the most,” says Gold, a Tony Award winner for the musical Fun Home. He and Craig felt an immediate bond when Gold directed the actor’s 2016 performance as Iago opposite David Oyelowo in Othello, a hit production followed by Gold’s collaborations with Oscar Isaac in Hamlet and Glenda Jackson in King Lear. In a wide-ranging chat with Broadway Direct, Gold shared his thoughts about the Scottish play — which he is willing to call by name, downplaying any superstitions surrounding the title — and previewed the “really fun ride” Broadway audiences can expect.
Let’s begin with the stars of Macbeth, who are coming to Broadway after acclaimed movie performances in No Time to Die and Passing. Some people may be unaware that Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga are very experienced Shakespearean actors.
You couldn’t think of two people more perfect for these roles. They both have so much charisma, there’s no way it’s not going to catch fire. Macbeth is an obvious part that Daniel should play. Everybody can picture Daniel Craig doing the dark action sequences, but he has the power as a stage actor and the control and the technique to go through an enormous transformation over the course of the play. He will be able to portray a Macbeth who you sympathize with — you understand why he behaves the way he does, and then when he becomes evil, you think, “Why was I rooting for him?” You feel implicated, which is something Shakespeare intends.
After playing Hamlet in New York two years ago, Ruth Negga is taking on a very different challenge as Lady Macbeth.
Ruth is one of those actors you just can’t take your eyes off. She burns very bright in all of her work, and Lady Macbeth is the ultimate version of that. It’s one of the most memorable characters in dramatic literature, even though her stage time isn’t anywhere near one of the biggest parts. I think the mystery Ruth brings to all of her roles is great for Lady Macbeth. You see her complicated lived experience on stage, and you’re interested in her and root for her.
Why is Macbeth so irresistible?
It’s just a really fun ride. Some of Shakespeare’s plays are long and challenging and hard to connect to, but Macbeth is none of that. It’s his shortest play, it’s a single-plot play, and there aren’t any confusing characters. It’s a straightforward story with a lot of stagecraft and excitement. There are witches and apparitions and blood and gore — the witches are putting a spell on you, and that’s what theater does too. I love doing a play that will be a lot of people’s first experience with Shakespeare and getting them excited about it.
What themes in the play resonate for you right now?
It’s about a world turned upside down, where a sense of normalcy is falling apart. “Fair is foul and foul is fair” is one of the first things said. Obviously, coming to Broadway after two years of a pandemic, audiences are feeling that kind of vertigo. What is this world we live in, and how has it changed? When Shakespeare wrote Macbeth, theatres were closing down for the plague, and I think that feeling of surrealism is going to connect people to the play now. You go to the theatre and watch the actors go to these dark places, there’s a catharsis when they finish, and then the lights come up and you go home feeling better.
You obviously see Macbeth and Lady Macbeth as more than villains who murder a king to get what they want. What’s your view of their downfall?
The play doesn’t start with two villains — it’s a much more interesting play than that. The first thing we learn about Macbeth is that he’s a great and loyal soldier who saves Scotland on the battlefield. These are two pretty regular people who have a lot of passion and ambition, and in the course of the play they wind up making a Faustian bargain. They think they can handle the consequences of doing one terrible thing, and then it comes back to bite them. Instead of redeeming themselves, they keep falling further and further into darkness.
So, we shouldn’t blame Lady Macbeth for her husband’s evil deeds?
The idea of Lady Macbeth as the symbol of evil is mistaken; in fact, it’s misogynistic, this idea that a woman corrupts a man. Shakespeare takes these stereotypes and complicates them and makes the characters deeper and more interesting. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have the only fully realized marriage in all of Shakespeare, and I am interested in making a very specific world on stage around the issues of masculinity and femininity in the play.
Speaking of masculinity and femininity, you’ve cast Tony nominee Amber Gray (Hadestown) as Banquo, the general whose ghost famously haunts Macbeth. How did you go about casting her and other supporting roles?
Amber is playing Banquo as a woman, thinking about motherhood and what it means to be a soldier and a woman. Malcolm [the son of murdered King Duncan] is being played by Asia Kate Dillon, who uses they/them pronouns. You always want to reflect the world you’re living in, and I think the play presents an interesting opportunity for these sorts of explorations. The other thing to point out is that there are two interracial marriages in this production — [the Macbeths] and Macduff and Lady Macduff [Grantham Coleman and Maria Dizzia]. It was important to me to think about the power dynamics of marriage as central to the play, because if Macbeth is about anything, it’s about power.
It sounds like your Macbeth will provide Broadway audiences with plenty of thrills and surprises.
It’s like candy for directors, this play, because you have all these exciting moments to stage. A thousand other directors have done it in different ways, so there’s the fun of being in conversation with history. It’s going to be a passionate, rock ’n’ roll evening, a dark, punk-rock night at the theatre.
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