BAZ BAMIGBOYE: Alex Kingston swaps the Tardis for toil and trouble with Kenneth Branagh

Daily Mail, 11 April 2013
By Baz Bamigboye

Doctor Who star Alex Kingston will join Kenneth Branagh to play that famously bewitched couple the Macbeths.

The actors, who cut their theatrical teeth at the Royal Shakespeare Company, will lead the Manchester International Festival production of 'Macbeth', which will be performed in a deconsecrated church in the city centre, from July 5 for just a two-week run — though there will be a one-off live broadcast on July 20.

Alex often returns to the stage — she was in Michael Grandage’s production of 'Luisa Miller' at the Donmar two years ago — but hasn’t been back to the Bard since playing Desdemona at the Birmingham Rep two decades ago.

She has concentrated on independent films and top-notch TV, including 'ER', 'Without A Trace',' Moll Flanders', 'Boudicca' and, as the buccaneering River Song, a recurring character in several series of 'Doctor Who'.

Rehearsals won’t start until late next month, but she told me from her home in Los Angeles that she had already ‘started to work the muscles in my mouth, just getting round the lines. It’s very different from other classical text, obviously’.

She’s happy to go through all the toil and trouble, though, for the chance to work with Branagh for the first time. ‘I’m excited — and a bit terrified, as well — about being given the challenge and being pushed,’ she said. ‘It’s going to be a workout, that’s for sure. Emotional things are already starting to percolate.’

The actress met Branagh, who will be co-directing the play with Rob Ashford, when he was working in Los Angeles. They took tea and talked about the Thane and his wife. One point was the thought that ‘it’s more interesting if you don’t consider them sort of quintessentially evil at the beginning of the play, because then, ultimately, you’re only playing one note.

‘There are references in the play that their castle is very pleasant; it’s not some sort of terrifying, glowering place that has an evil presence.’ It soon becomes bloody, though.

Alex noted that the challenge is to find the ‘real, everyday people that they were’ before the three witches unleash Macbeth’s ‘black and deep desires’.

Indeed, Rob Ashford said he and Branagh wanted an actress of Kingston’s stature to ‘bring out Lady Macbeth’s vulnerabilities — you just can’t be a gargoyle through the whole thing’.

Ashford insisted that the Macbeths are ‘good people in a bad situation’, reacting to supernatural events. Lady Macbeth is just doing her wifely thing and being faithful to her husband’s vision, however bloodthirsty.

There are no plans for the production to visit London, or anywhere else for that matter — for now at least. Alex has other work lined up in the U.S., though she would like to return to the classical stage repertoire.

Branagh, meanwhile, will direct a big-screen 'Cinderella' for Disney with Cate Blanchett. He’s auditioning actresses for the title role, including the drop-dead gorgeous Bella Heathcote from 'Neighbours'.

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