Features NYC Features Published 7 April 2011

Will Keen: An aptly-named Macbeth

In stripped-down Scottish Play, this Brit feels at home.

Richard Patterson

Still, he emphasizes, “You always want to keep coming back to Shakespeare, I think, because he does have extraordinary things to say about the human being.” Recently, Keen, who has recently lived in Spain, has even performed Shakespeare in Spanish, describing the experience as a liberating one as an actor. “Working Shakespeare in another language, the absolutely unparalleled brilliance of the verse – for better and for worse – imprisons you less. Some liberties can be taken, which you couldn’t take, because there’s something so monumental about the way the language works.”

Because Patrick Stewart’s interpretation of Macbeth, in a production directed by in-vogue British director Rupert Goold, played at BAM just a few years ago and transferred to Broadway, comparisons to that production seem inevitable. Keen, who had a chance to catch Stewart’s take on the role, was quick to emphasize that he didn’t draw from any particular previous Macbeths when creating his performance. Regarding the Goold-helmed production, he said “It was a very, very different kind of production, because it was very, as Rupert often is, production-led. It was amazing technically, and the feeling of that lift [the central elevator inherent to the production design] and that space, but this is trying to do a very different thing, I think. It’s a very different way of approaching it.”


A bare stage as the setting for Shakespeare. Photo: Stephanie Berger

Keen seems most comfortable when the spotlight is on the basics – particularly when it’s placed on he and his fellow company members and their contributions to the whole of the production. Regarding Shakespeare, he’s got particularly strong notions, stating that “one of the greatest respects you can pay to Shakespeare is by being irreverent,” emphasizing that it’s important not “to feel that because he is so extraordinary you become cowed by his genius and you feel that you have to create something stylized and distanced and archaeological, in a way. This is the way they were in those days, and your responsibility as an artist or as an actor, is to say ‘we’re the same,’ and to make people question things in themselves about what they would do in that situation.”

Cheek by Jowl, it would seem, is to him the perfect example of this theory. “What they do in the rehearsal room with absolute integrity with every text is that they continue to be absolutely respectful and irreverent. They wouldn’t be doing these plays if they weren’t deeply in love with the language; that’s what I think drives them on.”

Richard Patterson

A graduate of New York University with a degree in Dramatic Literature, Richard was deputy theatre editor at musicOMH.com from 2008-2011 and New York Editor of Exeunt from 2011-2016. He is excited to continue on as a contributor. With a penchant for Sondheim, the Bard, and Beckett, as well as for new writing, theatergoing highlights include Fiona Shaw's Winnie in "Happy Days," Derek Jacobi's Lear, Jonathan Pryce in "The Caretaker," and Chiwetel Ejiofor's Othello at the Donmar. Richard's criticism has been published in The Sondheim Review.