Alan Cumming (X-Men, Golden Eye) made his professional acting debut at 22 in the play Macbeth. He feels that his career has been circling the play every since. When the National Theatre of Scotland asked him a couple of years ago if there was any role he was interested in doing, he actually thought of two.
"Initially, I wanted to do it where I would play Macbeth one night and Lady Macbeth the next night and the actress playing Lady Macbeth would play Macbeth," Cumming says. Actually he ended up playing Macbeth in the first half of the play and Lady Macbeth in the second, but the producers and the audiences felt that when Alan wasn't on stage the play lost some of it's energy.
Andrew Goldberg, who's co-director of the current production, had an epiphany.
"I thought Alan would be an incredible person to take on the task of a one-man Macbeth, set in a psychiatric ward," Goldberg says.
When the lights come up on a large hospital ward, its green institutional tiles slightly mildewed around the edges. Seated on a metal table, a clearly deranged man is being examined by a doctor. He takes off his slightly bloody street clothes and changes into drab hospital pajamas. As the man desperately clutches a paper bag, an orderly takes him to a bed. And as they are about to leave the room, the man finally speaks.
"When shall we three meet again / In thunder, lightning or in rain?"
That's right: Macbeth. For the next hour and a half, this mental patient performs his own feverish and highly personal version of Shakespeare's bloody tragedy about ambition, power and madness. This experimental tour de force stars Alan Cumming as the mental patient and therefore as Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Banquo, Duncan and most of the other characters.
Sigmund Freud wrote an essay that says that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are two halves of the same person and together they make up a psyche. This play draws heavily on those ideas.
Alan Cumming is a brilliant actor and this is a most ambitious idea for a play. Hopefully, those of us not in Scotland will get a chance to see it.
If you are a fan of dark stories and haven't experienced Macbeth, you should. There is a 2006 film version starring Sam Worthington (Avatar) which is a more or less modern re-telling set in the Melbourne gangland, but for a more classic version, try the 1979 "A Performance of Macbeth" starring Ian McKellan (Lord of the Rings, Xmen) and Dame Judy Dench (Shakespeare in Love, 007).