How about Lady Macbeth as a man?

Thanks to regular reader Angela for the link!
Alan Cumming, fresh from playing Sebastian in Julie Taymor’s Tempest, wants to tackle more Shakespeare. And he’s got a doozy of an idea – he wants to try Lady Macbeth:

“I want to do a production of Macbeth where I play Macbeth one night and Lady Macbeth the next – and the girl who plays Lady Macbeth will change around too. I think it’s a way at looking at gender, what defines a man.”

I like this idea, and I respect him as an actor for even bringing it up. We often hear about giving male roles to women – Helen Mirren’s Prospera comes immediately to mind, though we also had a post recently about a gender-bent Hamlet as well. It’s not often you hear male actors speak of their desire to tackle a female role.
Also, maybe I’m misunderstanding him, but is he suggesting that the female lead, when he is playing Lady M, would take on Mac? So depending on when you saw the show you’d either see it played straight (ahem), or bent? I think I’d feel obligated to see both versions, if that’s the case.
What do you think? I know, I know, no girls in original version, boys plays girls’ roles all the time, yadda yadda. I’m not talking about 400 years ago, I’m talking about today, by contemporary expectations and standards, what do you think? What sort of expectations are you going to bring to the show if you know that a man is playing Lady M? If a man were playing Lady M and a woman playing M, which one do you think you’d pay more attention to?

3 thoughts on “How about Lady Macbeth as a man?

  1. I was once in an all-female production of Macbeth (I played Lady Macbeth). And I've heard of a couple all-female productions of Richard III.

    Some friends of mine did "Drunken Shakespeare" last week. In a bar setting (where actors and audience are one and the same, and all are drinking), people would get up and perform whatever Shakespeare bits and bobs that they felt like doing. And there was indeed a male actor who did a Lady Macbeth speech. He was quite good.

    I think it would be interesting. And I, too, would want to see it both ways.

  2. Well, I think one of the interesting things about Lady Macbeth is the fact that she does seem more masculine than many of Shakespeare's female characters. I think it could be a fascinating reading of the character. Another interesting possibility would be to have the actors playing Macbeth and Lady Macbeth to switch roles part way through the play.

  3. Danny Boyle just directed a production of Frankenstein featuring Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller as the doctor and the monster–but switching roles each night. It received rave reviews and I think is now being broadcast in some art house cinemas. So apparently there is a recent precedent for a successful undertaking of this kind of thing.

    (Check out the YouTube trailer, it is just amazing:

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