Patrick Stewart, September 2007
Patrick Stewart interview
From Shakespeare to sci-fi and back again: Patrick Stewart on Macbeth, resurrecting his love affair with the London stage and Trekkies in the audience...
"They arrive here and Jean-Luc Picard isn't anywhere around. Instead there's something else going on..."
Patrick Stewart is backstage at the Gielgud Theatre, musing on his sci-fi tag and the regular presence of Trekkies in the audience whenever he takes to the boards.
"I meet these people afterwards, I get letters from them and see them at the stage door," he says, his mellifluous voice becoming more animated.
"And they say, 'I've never seen Shakespeare before, I didn't think I'd understand it, but it was wonderful and I can't wait to come back'.
"You know," he booms, "We're making audiences for Shakespeare here in the West End."
The 67-year-old actor has good reason to feel excited and a little pleased.
Before his Hollywood sojourn in Star Trek: The Next Generation and its big-screen spin-offs, he was the first actor to speak a line on the Barbican stage in the title role of Henry IV.
"ruling by fear"
That was back in 1981. Now he's resurrecting his love affair with the London stage and collaborating on a regular basis with the RSC, tackling Antony and Cleopatra, The Tempest, and now, a pulse-quickening modern dress version of Macbeth.
Stewart's Macbeth is in modern dress
Rupert Goold's production, first seen at the Chichester Festival Theatre, is playing to a packed house in Shaftesbury Avenue, Stewart tells BBC London, shaking that famously hairless head of his.
"It's set in the cold war, somewhere in eastern Europe during the late Forties and early Fifties, and it came out of references in the text to having spies in people's houses, torturing people and ruling by fear."
Shakespeare's familiar tragedy has, in effect, been given a Soviet-style makeover, complete with military uniforms and footage of massed troops marching on what resembles Red Square.
Stewart and co-star Kate Fleetwood
Still, there are some things that don't change. Superstition has it you're not allowed to refer to the play by name within the theatre, lest bad luck bedevil the production.
Could the curse of the Scottish Play have struck already, at this early point in the Gielgud run?
"I had a bath delivered to my home and I'd waited five months for it, and it arrived damaged. I'm blaming the play for it!", roars Stewart in delight.
"What are we to do? We live and breathe it every day, so we're keeping our fingers crossed. Whatever happens can't be any worse than my damaged bath."
Macbeth continues at the Gielgud Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue W1, until 1 December. Box Office: 0870 950 0915.
last updated: 27/09/07