Lady Macbeth is a big part to fill: her descent from forceful determination to despair and insanity has been portrayed by some formidable actresses across generations.
For the GSP film, this legacy is inherited by Akiya Henry (whose previous work includes productions with Trevor Nunn and Dominic Dromgoole). This is her dream role, says Akiya. And seeing her on set, you can believe it. Akiya is small in stature but large in presence and she radiates positivity at all points. After the slower days of the shoot, she can be found cracking jokes or teasing Mark Rowley (Macbeth) to bolster the mood of cast and crew. And after four weeks of filming, she knows everyone.
She’s got a ‘How was your weekend?’ up her (velvet) sleeve for the entire crew, from studio head to production runner. That work experience student from last week recovering from her GCSEs by diligently fanning actors between takes on the hot set? She spent a day chaperoning Akiya from make-up to set, and now they’re proper buddies. If in playing Queen of Scotland she’s charged with being ‘fiend-like’ and power-hungry, as Queen of Bubwith she’s engagingly friendly and very well-loved.
Akiya extends this compassion and sensitivity to her reading of Lady Macbeth, a character often portrayed as irredeemably evil. In collaboration with Kit Monkman (director) and Tom Mattinson (producer), Akiya is is at pains to rehabilitate Lady Macbeth. She’s interested in the human condition, she tells One&Other, or “what makes us human”, and doesn’t accept any simplified narrative of her character as the malignant devil on her husband’s shoulder.
So when One&Other, having found some time last week in Akiya and Mark’s busy schedules to take some pictures for the press kit, set up the camera and ask Mark to assume an expression suitable for a quick visual allusion to Macbeth (soldierly fury?) and Akiya one to evoke Lady Macbeth (scheming fierceness?), she doesn’t hesitate to correct what she sees as a fundamental misconception of her character.
“She doesn’t really have any moments like that,” Akiya says, and opts instead for an icy, controlled stare – the more chilling for its composure. As Akiya later explains to me, a visibly aggressive ‘Lady M’ would not be an honest advert for an adaptation that strives to access the interior worlds of the two leads with some considerable sympathy, and to pick apart the nuances of the couple’s shifting relationship. What might it take to keep such a marriage together in such feverish circumstances, and what might most threaten it? This production asks properly interested questions of the relationship in order to explore it in the context of this extreme drama.