Patrick Stewart's Courtesy
He's a big name actor with solid Shakespearean roots who has returned to the West End in a role that many critics have hailed as his finest, so you can imagine everyone's disappointment on Saturday afternoon when it was announced that Patrick Stewart, alas, would not be playing Macbeth that day as he was 'indisposed'. This happens quite frequently. Big name actor who everyone has paid to come and see, pulls out without notice leaving the production distinctly wanting, and the punters furious. One of my friends had been to see 'Equus' not long ago, only to find that Richard Griffiths was 'indisposed' on that occasion, and his part taken by an understudy who had to hold the script throughout the production. We weren't expecting that level of amateurism at Macbeth, but some of the punters were clearly very angry at Stewart's non-appearance. I wasn't that happy about it myself - his performance in this role is meant to be outstanding. But the production as awhole is meant to be good, and we had after all paid good money for the tickets, so we settled down in our seats ready to make the best of it.
Then, without fanfare, a man who looked distinctly like Patrick Stewart appeared on the stage. His likeness to the famous Star Trek actor owed much to the fact that it was, in fact, him. A silence descended and Stewart's unmistakeable tones could be heard. He was not, he said, able to play the role this evening. He had been struggling all week with his voice - that much was clear listening to him - and his doctors had finally stepped in. He was deeply apologetic. It is, he said, an unbearable thing for an actor to do. But, he added, this was an excellent production with fine actors and we were in for a very good afternoon. And as he finished, he was greeted with a sustained and genuine applause. His simple act of graciousness and courtesy had won us all over. He hadn't, after all, taken us for granted. He had taken the trouble to turn up and apologise in person. Such a respect for their public is, alas, increasingly rare amongst celebrities of many different hues - Stewart reminded us that there was still another side.
The production was, indeed, excellent. A genuinely thrilling, dynamic and thought-provoking performance - the best 'Macbeth' I've seen. Yes, Stewart's presence would certainly have been the icing on the cake, but his replacement filled the role admirably, and the strength of a genuinely ensemble production with high values and much dramatic flair was apparent throughout. There was much to chew over from this most political of plays, but as we walked away we also retained a feeling of affection and admiration for the man who wasn't Macbeth that day. A little courtesy went a long way.