James McAvoy, a Best Actor nominee at next Sunday’s Olivier Awards with MasterCard, has revealed how punishing his time playing Macbeth has been.
“It’s an outpouring of energy, this show,” he told Official London Theatre. “It doesn’t really work unless we try and hurt ourselves physically, mentally and spiritually.”
So it felt like a just reward for that suffering, he said, when the show, which completes it run at the Trafalgar Studios on Saturday, received an Olivier Award nomination for Best Revival.
“My favourite kind of theatre,” he went on, “is where I see actors bleed and sweat blood and look like they’re having heart attacks; really go through the things that we don’t want to have to go through in our own lives. Adventures aren’t always fun. Adventures are fun when you’re watching somebody else go through them. [Audiences] want to see people go through all the horrible things, the hard things, the terrible things, so you’ve got to try and dash yourself as much as you can without breaking yourself.”
Fellow cast member Kevin Guthrie agreed: “It’s not about pain, it’s not about hurting yourself, but that never leaves you. It feels like we could do this play for 10 years and we would never lose that fear beforehand. That’s so exciting. That’s what pushed the adrenaline, that’s what opens up your body and your being to what goes on in those two and a half hours.”
The production, the first in the Trafalgar Transformed season created by director Jamie Lloyd, has been seen by more than 35,000 theatregoers, 5,000 of whom have purchased £15 Monday seats, among them specially targeted school children, young people and theatre newcomers.
While McAvoy received an Olivier Award nomination for his performance, director Lloyd received a special commendation from his cast, Jamie Ballard speaking for all of them when he said of the young director with a consistently growing reputation: “He enables you. He empowers you to play, to try things out, to maybe fail but hopefully not. But at no point is there a negative in the room. That just makes you feel as a company so supported and allowed to go down so many different avenues and explore and never feel like you’re doing anything wrong, which, for an actor, is priceless.”
Lloyd’s second production of the season, The Hothouse, which stars an incredible cast featuring Simon Russell Beale, John Simm, Indira Varma and Harry Melling, begins previews on 4 May. In contrast to Macbeth, which was updated to a post-apocalyptic Scotland, Harold Pinter’s dark comedy of power-plays in an institution won’t be shifted in time, staying in 1958. But, as Lloyd explains, “a 1958 that is now being ruled by a totalitarian regime. So there’s a little bit of a whiff of 1984 about it that gives it an exciting sci-fi edge.”
Before Russell Beale, Simm and co take to the stage come the final brutal performances of Macbeth and a nervous night at the Royal Opera House waiting to hear if they have won UK theatre’s most prestigious prize. Though McAvoy may be hopeful for the cast, he does not fancy his own chances: “The last time I got nominated for an Olivier, I was up against [fellow nominee this year] Mark Rylance. I didn’t win, because you can’t beat him. He’s the best actor in the world. So that will probably happen again this year.”
Theatre fans can follow all the events from the Olivier Awards with MasterCard on Sunday 28 April here on Official London Theatre, join the party at the free Covent Garden piazza event from 16:00, listen live on BBC Radio 2 from 18:00 or watch the incredible highlights show on ITV from 22:15.