By Collins, Michael J. | Shakespeare Bulletin, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview


Collins, Michael J., Shakespeare Bulletin


Presented by the Chichester Festival at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester, England. May 25-September 1, 2007. Directed by Rupert Goold. Designed by Anthony Ward. Lighting by Howard Harrison. Music and Sound by Adam Cork. Video and Projection by Lorna Heavey. Movement by Georgina Lamb. Fights by Terry King. With Paul Shelley (Duncan), Scott Handy (Malcolm), Ben Carpenter (Donalbain, Young Seward), Patrick Stewart (Macbeth), Martin Turner (Banquo), Michael Feast (Macduff), Mark Rawlings (Lennox), Tim Treloar (Ross), Bill Nash (Angus), Tom Bulpett or Mike Jeffery (Fleance), Christopher Knott (Old Seyward), Christopher Patrick Nolan (Seyton), Hywel John (Bloody Sergeant, Murderer), Kate Fleetwood (Lady Macbeth), Suzanne Burden (Lady Macduff), Lara Rees (Witch), Polly Frame (Witch, Gentlewoman), Niamh McGrady (Witch), and others.

After working on the stage in London and Stratford-upon-Avon for over twenty years, Patrick Stewart left for Hollywood in 1987 where he found fame (and fortune) first as Captain Picard in the television and film versions of Star Trek and then as Professor Charles Xavier in the X-Men trilogy. He did not act again in a Shakespeare play in England until 2006 when he returned to play Antony (with Harriet Walter as Cleopatra) and then Prospero for the Royal Shakespeare Company's Complete Works Festival in Stratford and London. Although he had "for decades ... almost never been south of the Thames" (The Independent, 3 August 2007), he next signed on to do Macbeth and Malvolio at the Chichester Festival in summer 2007. When Dominic Cavendish asked him, in the midst of a miserable, flooded summer in England, if he missed the sunshine of Los Angeles, he said, "not for an instant.... I feel as if Shakespeare is coursing through me at the moment. It's exhilarating. Why would I want to abandon that which is most alive inside me?" (The Daily Telegraph, 16 July 2007).

After spectacular reviews in Chichester, Macbeth transferred in December to the Gielgud Theatre in London at about the same time Ian McKellen's King Lear returned to London from its world tour, and Othello, with Ewan McGregor and Chiwetel Ejiofor, opened at the Donmar Warehouse. The three productions sold out at once, and, as tickets for each reached several hundred pounds, Michael Billington suggested in The Guardian that "if you add Shakespeare and sci-fi movie fame [Ian McKellen played Magneto, Professor Xavier's mutant adversary, in the X-Men trilogy, and Ewan McGregor played Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars films], you could probably fill Wembley stadium" (The Guardian, 6 December 2007). Macbeth opened in February 2008 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and the RSC, perhaps recognizing the wisdom of Michael Billington's words, cast Patrick Stewart as Claudius in a production of Hamlet that opens in Stratford in July, 2008, with David Tennant (television's Dr. Who) in the title role.

Except for the long interlude in Hollywood (during which he did The Tempest in Central Park and on Broadway and a racially reversed Othello at The Shakespeare Theatre in Washington), Patrick Stewart had consistently played Shakespeare throughout his career, and he was widely recognized as an accomplished Shakespearean actor. Lured "south of the Thames" then both by his celebrity and his earlier work on the stage, I arrived around noon in Chichester for a Wednesday matinee. Since the box office had not yet opened, however, I went for lunch at the Festival's Chic Cafe. And there, sitting alone at a table in the back of the Cafe, was Patrick Stewart: no paparazzi, no Trekkies, no entourage, only a pot of tea and a cell phone. Although I had once, many years ago, organized a performance of his Shylock and Other Strangers for him at Georgetown University, I resisted the desire to re-introduce myself (he would never in any case have remembered me), pretended not to see him, and thus allowed him to pretend he had become what he had suggested (in the interview with Dominic Cavendish) he wanted to become that summer--a more or less equal member of an acting company at a summer festival. …

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