Interview: Michael Hurst on Macbeth

Classic Hits radio, Auckland, 2 June 2004





male interviewer: He is starring in, he is directing Macbeth with The Large Group at the Maidment Theatre right now, Mr. Michael Hurst. We just phoned you up to wish you, break a leg, but you know, not really.

Michael Hurst: (laughs) I'd rather not. You're not supposed to say that with this play; it's the opposite to what normally you say.

mi: What, for Shakespeare, you say something different?

MH: Well, no, for Macbeth you say good luck because if you say break a leg which normally means good luck to actors but if you do it in Macbeth it means bad luck.

mi: Macbeth is cursed!

MH: The play is cursed.

female interviewer: You're not even meant to mention Macbeth at all, are you?

MH: No, you're not. Not if you're suspicious, no you're not. You're supposed to do all sorts of crazy things if you do mention it in the dressing room, you have to go outside and turn round in a circle and . . .

fi: Do you . . . ?

mi: Hold on! Why are we having an interview with you, then?

MH: Eh?

mi: Why are we having an interview with you if you're not going to mention it?

MH: (laughs) I'm not suspicious.

fi: I was gonna say, you've said it four times already and it does pose rather a problem for your marketing arm . . .

MH: Yeah, it does.

fi: . . . doesn't it?

MH: I don't hold with any of that stuff. I walk into the brave new world of atheism; there we go.

mi: Two hour performance and you're doing it twice today.

MH: Yes, we are; yeah, yeah, yeah.

mi: Tough. That's a big call.

MH: Well, it is a big call. In the next two days we do it four times, we've got two schools matinees and then two evening shows. But the schools matinees are great because, you know, they're aged from about 14 to 17, I guess, and they're testing, you know, you're either . . . they either like it or they don't, and they're really good at telling you if they don't.

fi: I think the great thing about having the schools go along is that . . . I mean, we all did Shakespeare at school . . .

mi: That's right.

fi: . . . and you see the thing come to life!

mi: Oh, yeah

fi: Amazing. Nothing like it.

MH: This one's pretty up there. It's an unusual one. I haven't set it . . . there are no swords in it . . .

mi: Why not?

MH: Well, because swords . . . well, people go, oh, yeah, well, they're gonna be clever with the swords. But I don't want the audience to get off the hook, you see, so it's all set in Victorian England, so . . .

mi: So, hold on, how do you kill Banquo and all those guys. How do you kill everybody?

MH: Well, with knives and fists and . . .

mi: Wow. Guns . . .

MH: . . . rifles; the usual weaponry of the Crimean war.

fi: . . . duct tape and rope and . . .

MH: (laughs) yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. There are some hideous deaths in it, yeah, that's true.

mi: That's cool.

fi: Hey, you're doing Macbeth, you've done Hamlet--what do you like most about doing Shakespeare? You seem to be fond of Shakespeare.

MH: What I love about it is that there's nothing like it. If you get it right, it is the ultimate theatre experience because it's the biggest, the most shocking, the most intense, you know, on all fronts, it does it better than anything else. And the trick is to get it right. And we generally--though I say it myself--we generally do get it right, and the kids really get the clarity of it and the older audiences just, well, they're always amazed at how different it can be so . . .

mi: But you've done the two greatest hits of Shakespeare in one year, Hamlet and Macbeth.

MH: Yeah, that's right, yeah.

mi: And you're 47 years old now.

MH: Yes? What's wrong with that?

mi: Well, what I'm suggesting is that perhaps you've gotten to that stage . . .

fi (interrupting): Are you 47? (I'm sorry). Are you 47?

MH: Yeah.

fi: You don't look 47.

MH: Well, thanks, darling . . .

fi: No, you don't!

MH: Come round to my room for a cup of tea if you like . . .

fi: (laughs)

mi: I'm suggesting that you're at that stage where you want to do your definitive performances.

MH: Well, how can they ever be definitive? They just . . . you can never actually define those performances, They just change every day. But, you know, I'm just . . . yeah, you're right, I wanna . . I'm ripe to play Macbeth now and I can play it for as long as I can still walk and fight, you know. (laughs)

mi: So, can we send you a sympathy card when you get round to playing King Lear?

MH: (laughs) You know what, that might be sooner rather than later. Cause I mean with Lear, if you're not, um, if you're old enough, you can't play it--you haven't got the energy--and if you've got the energy, you're usually not old enough

mi: That's right.

MH: You've gotta find the right one for that one.

mi: Do you ever get the two plays, Hamlet and Macbeth, since you've done them so close together, mixed up and say, alas, poor Yorrick, he's got a spot?

MH: (laughs) No, no, no, no, no, I don't. In fact, when we were doing Hamlet, uh, Macbeth, we were rehearsing that and I was playing Goldie at night . . .

mi and fi: (big laugh)

MH: . . . that was fine. They never interfered.

fi: I'd love to see you do Romeo and Juliet, with you as Juliet, as the Widow Twankey.

mi: (big laugh)

MH: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

fi: . . . just confuse things even further

MH: I could do Romeo at that same time, that would be pretty good.

fi: (laugh)

mi: If you've never seen Macbeth, you've really gotta see it; it really is bloodthirsty . . .

fi: Oh, wow . . .

mi: . . . he's off his nut.

MH: He is off his nut.

mi: And Lady Macbeth is a piece of work. And there's ghosts and all that sort of as well.

fi: It's great.

mi: You've gotta go along to the Maidment Theatre, The Large Group is presenting it, starring and directed by Michael Hurst . . .

MH: That's right.

mi: . . . with production from your good lady wife, Jennifer Ward-Lealand.

MH: Uh huh.

mi: Break . . ah, no, sorry . . .

fi: No, no, no--bad luck. Good luck.

mi: Horrible luck . . .

MH: Ok.

mi: Whatever!

MH: Thanks a lot.



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