I cannot wait to watch Christine Mackie play Lear at Manchester’s Hope Mill. It’s a demanding and complex role – fiery, domineering, fearful and, at its core, vulnerable. Basically, Lear is an all-you-can-eat buffet of a character, perfect for an actor like Mackie.

In person and in performance, Mackie has immense charm. As Dr Gaddas in Coronation Street, she has treated the cast (and the audience) for nearly a decade. In addition to her many roles on stage and screen, including Mrs Bryant in Downton Abbey and Lady Macduff in Macbeth, she has written two successful plays, Best Girl (starring her daughter Lois Mackie) and KIN. Above all, to see her on stage is a real treat. As an actor she digs deep, is enigmatic, moving, and incredibly funny.

When I spoke to Mackie about her role in Lear, the first thing I wanted to know was this: will we be treated to her impeccable timing? “Ha! We’ll see. Kayleigh [Hawkins], our director, is keen to find as much humour as possible in the production, and I think during Lear’s journey from great power to being powerless, there’s an unexpected freedom which softens her rigidity, and she becomes quite playful especially with her Fool.”

Observing the glaring comparisons to Lear while watching the fourth series of TV’s Succession, I ask Mackie if we will see some of patriarch Logan Roy in her portrayal. “The family dynamics of Succession are definitely a useful contemporary reference,” she says. “Lear is such an immovable object, dedicated to self-preservation and control, until bad decisions mean the ground shifts and everything changes.”

And what, I ask, of the daughters’ divisions and hierarchy, which are so intrinsic to Shakespeare’s plot? “We see a paternalistic state purporting to be looking after its citizens but actually it’s the people, the community, who do the caring, supporting and nurturing.”

So, in Mackie’s portrayal of Lear, does she use her maternal power to be insidiously destructive? “I’m keen to challenge any stereotype, and it’s been interesting thinking about Lear’s relationship with the three daughters.” She goes on to give me a snapshot of an interesting nuance to the character. “I think she’s unsentimental about the bond that is supposed to exist and is so used to the need for expediency in office, it’s tricky for them to know how she’ll behave. And as she’s aged, it’s become even more so – when she asks for love, she expects to be given it.”

It’s the thought of these complexities of character floating to the surface, and the idea of not second-guessing what may be revealed in the performance, that I know will hold the audience. I wonder how Mackie feels to be representing Lear. 

“It’s daunting but the words are wonderful, the story gripping and the opportunity so rare. Being asked was an enormous surprise, but I do feel privileged to be playing Lear, and with this fantastic company.”

It has become an annual treat to witness HER Productions, Unseemly Women, and Girl Gang represent and champion the wealth of talented women and non-binary actors in the North with their productions of Shakespeare. Meanwhile, for my final question, I challenge Mackie to tell me a secret about motherhood.

My best friend from school, who had kids earlier than I did, once told me when the mess and clutter of it all collides with exhaustion, you have to look at it and repeat ‘It’s stuff on the floor, it’s just stuff on the floor’. In the early days of motherhood, I found that mantra very reassuring.”

By Cathy Crabb

Lear is at Hope Mill from June 7, 2023 until June 18, 2023. For more information, click here. 

Lear transfers to Shakespeare North, June 21-24, 2023. For more information, click here.