Christine Mackie, aka Coronation Street’s Dr Gaddas, is taking a break from the cobbles to take on the title role in an all female and non-binary production of King Lear. She talks to Carmel Thomason about preparing for one of theatre’s most demanding roles.
What were your first thoughts on being approached by HER Productions to play Lear?
Christine: “I was absolutely astonished to be asked, so out of the blue, I think I was in shock for most of the Zoom! I was intrigued though. And I knew about their previous all-female Shakespeare productions and was a fan. I was given a few weeks to think about and to read Kayleigh Hawkins (the director) adaption. Cuts are made in most Shakespeare texts and I needed to see what I’d be taking on. Then I set myself the challenge of learning the first scene and seeing how it felt. I fell in love with the lines and said YES!”
Whose performances of Lear have impressed you most?
Christine: “I’ve seen three productions of Lear, including Tom Courtney at the Exchange, I listened to the famous John Gielguid BBC radio recording, YouTube’d Glenda Jackson and Kathryn Hunter which have informed my thinking. But what has made the biggest impression has actually been reading the journals of Anthony Sher and Oliver Ford Davies. They wrote about their preparation and rehearsal experiences so evocatively and I’ve felt that they’ve been part of my preparation too. Every Lear is informed by the actors own instinct, relatable life experiences, and of course, the director’s vision”.
How are you approaching the character?
Christine: “I’ve been learning it for a while, and when the words are in your head it’s possible to play with interpretation or emphasis of a line so I’ve made some enjoyable discoveries, though I can’t wait to be in a rehearsal room with the rest of the company. I see Lear as a person of absolutes; used to being heard and obeyed without question. Because of the choices made, life for this supreme leader fractures and it’s impossible to regain control, but in losing that control, Lear is exposed to the reality of how the rest of kingdom lives and loves. So, although I have no experience of being someone with that amount of power, I can relate to the journey the character experiences”.
How to preserve and maintain your energy when performing a role as demanding as this one?
Christine: “It’s a four week rehearsal. It’s a big cast, 12 actors which is brilliant, and the schedule will be pretty intense. The rehearsal process is like building the scaffolding for the show, and is an ensemble activity, which means that in the world of the play, all the characters become bound together and there’s strength to be got from that I think – and I’ll be having lot’s of early nights!”
It is not uncommon now for women to play male roles in Shakespeare. But this production goes further in reversing the original all male cast and performing the play with an all-female/non-binary cast. Are the actors switching the characters’ genders?
Christine: “Absolutely, and in the North West we’ve recently had a female Shylock and Richard III too. In this production we will be playing the characters rather than their gender; how they behave, relate to others, what they learn etc and we won’t be changing the pronouns in the text”.
How do you think the gender of the cast will influence the direction of the play? What can the audience expect?
Christine: “I think the audience will see a high energy and fresh take on Lear, which will feel contemporary. For me theatre should be all about inclusivity. Theatre holds up a mirror to society and our society includes all those who have a right to be seen and acknowledged. I think the producers are to be applauded for making this possible and also for giving young actors the chance to be in a professional Shakespeare production, too. So few theatres have the resources to mount one, and now in the north we have one less theatre altogether, following the outrageous closure of Oldham Coliseum”.
In what other ways is this a Lear for today?
Christine: “I think it will speak to our current situation of political turmoil, strikes and hardship, it’s more Succession than Game of Thrones and is a proudly northern production”.
You are staging the play at both Hope Mill Theatre and Shakespeare North. What are your thoughts on performing in these two spaces?
Christine: “I met Kayleigh and Hannah through Hope Mill theatre where I was encouraged me to write and make my own work, something I hadn’t anticipated doing but I’m immensely grateful for. I’ve loved seeing shows there and Will and Jo have created a fabulously loyal and supportive audience. Shakespeare North will be very different in terms of staging but what an opportunity to perform in the Cockpit theatre. If you haven’t seen any images, Google it, it looks extraordinary”.
And while you are playing Lear, does this mean the Coronation Street cast can rest easy there will be no major diagnoses for the characters while you are away?
Christine: “Well, Dr G did manage to tend to a patient just before rehearsals started and hopefully I’ll be back after Lear. The cast were very supportive about the show, and want to see it, which is so lovely and I hope any Corrie fans will come and see me being more Baddas than Gaddas!”