The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1306 Wednesday, 28 June 2000.
Date: Tuesday, 27 Jun 2000 20:05:44 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Antony Sher's Macbeth
Actors who are short or gay can have a difficult time playing brutally
effective warriors. Toby Stephens (short) was not persuasive as
Coriolanus and Derek Jacobi (gay) failed dismally as Macbeth. Antony
Sher is both short and gay: not the most plausible candidate for
Bellona's Bridegroom. He is also a character actor with a flair for the
grotesque: not the happiest casting for a role that demands a great
tragedian. Trapped (like Macbeth) in a part too large for him, Sher
does what any other actor would do: he overcompensates. His face
half-blackened by an ugly beard, his brows wedded in a perpetual scowl,
his eyes bulging horrifically whenever he feels distraught (which is
often), Sher's Macbeth is a leering pop-eyed gnome, more Quilp than
tragic hero, and easily the most exophthalmic performance since Michael
Jayston played Nicholas II.
Sher also seems concerned about his voice, which is high, light and
nasal, as we all know from his fine character work. This he disguises
by snarling his lines through bared and gritted teeth. The effect is
As for interpretation, Sher offers little more than a galloping descent
into psychosis (which is quite wrong, since Macbeth never goes insane,
much as he would like to), relieved by many, many moments of misplaced
comedy. There is indeed humor in Macbeth: and Olivier, we are told,
could use it to enhance the seriousness--to show that tragedy and comedy
are two sides of a tossed coin: heads you fall on your prat, tails you
die, Ian McKellen, whatever his other deficits, could do much the same.
But Sher's comedy is simply funny; and it jars.