Following it’s sold out run at London’s National Theatre, Shakespeare’s Scottish play makes its way to Plymouth as it begins a tour of the UK. Rufus Norris (Artistic Director for the National Theatre) joins designer Rae Smith to transpose Shakespeare’s most intense tragedy into a dystopian post-apocalyptic world.
I had the opportunity to attend a press junket with Rufus where he gave us a further insight into the production from his directorial perspective.
Whilst explaining why he wanted to direct the production, Rufus discussed the importance of the play’s political resonance as Macbeth is somewhat about the pressures of leadership and “we are in an age where corruption of leadership is prevalent through the information we can access, especially young people. We’re in an uncertain period of time where we need to be aware of the perils of greed and ambition.”
During the discussion, it was clear that Rufus had a passion for young people to have a positive experience of the arts in their lives, as well as the ability to see the play rather than just reading it, “This play is on the syllabus for most young people. I think if I had to say what the most important issue is at the moment for the arts in this country, it’s absolutely arts in education. We are in, for me, a very negative age, where the policies of not just the current administration but respective ones have denigrated creativity in our schooling system and so any opportunity to give young people a chance to see, rather just read, the drama that they’re studying is important.”
He explained how we are currently surrounded by negativity with references to the war in Syria and the global refugee crisis alongside the worldwide political chaos. He feels that the ecological consequences of our modern lifestyle could be very severe, leaving a trail of devastation in its wake and that “If the national grid went down in the future, or now, and the internet went down, this town would be a completely different place inside a week, and in a year, it would be unrecognisable.”
The most common question that was asked – what will you change for the tour?
Rufus responded by explaining that the national press was negative towards the original production but the run completely sold-out, so they needed to find out what divided opinions. The intimacy is easier to achieve on a standard proscenium arch stage than in the Olivier Theatre so there will be a bigger focus on the small, intricate detail. The production is slightly abridged, it cuts down the role of the witches and cuts down act 4 scene 3, in the English court. “In terms of the witches, it’s partly because Shakespeare didn’t write some of the witches. It’s commonly accepted that the full version of Macbeth doesn’t exist, there’s lots of speculation about scenes that were reported that don’t appear to be there or the fact that Lady Macbeth almost completely disappears in the second half.” Taking away some of it is primarily to make the storyline clearer; “It has to be alive and invigorating, it’s not a museum piece in that it should be changed and worked with to keep it fresh.”
Regarding changes that he is considering making to the production for the tour, he actually said he’d be interested to take another look at the witches – “The one area that I would really like to turn the volume up on a bit is the witches. They’re very tricky […] I think there’s a way we can develop the kind of central idea of our witches – that they’re connected to the environment that they’re in”
Rae Smith (War Horse) has created a grim, dark environment to successfully portray an epic yet intimate dissection of 2 separate psyches. The area is completely wrecked due to tactics employed by armies such as bombs and burning of arable land.
Since the play was originally inspired by the Holinshed chronicles and was set in 11th century Scotland, Rufus told us how it was necessary to make sense of the anarchy and disruption for the modern audience. However, Shakespeare’s writing can be adapted to suit almost any setting you place it in – “The consequences of his [Macbeth’s] initial actions take hold as his world closes in on him and, in that respect, you could set it in any period.”“One of the challenges with the piece is that Macbeth has one line before he meets the witches: “‘So foul and fair a day I have not seen’ he says, and then they’re there. So normally in a play you have a period of normality; you know, Romeo is farting about with his mates, in love with Rosalind, shall we have a party, you know, and then he goes to the party and he sees Juliet. So you’re ten, fifteen minutes into the play before the play really starts and that is the normal shape of a play. In Macbeth, it’s not. You’ve got one line and then they’re there and you’re into it.”
The sense of normality around supernatural entities in the play is striking; “It’s interesting that Macbeth, when he writes to Lady Macbeth, he doesn’t say “You’ll never guess what, I met a witch!”. He goes “I met the witches and they said this”. So the fact that there are these entities out there, however you portray them, is to a degree normal.”
Taking the show National provides the chance to create a response to inequality of opportunity. They have created a more accurate representation of a modern Scotland through the casting and made theatre more accessible to encourage engagement with the arts and creativity, an initiative that theatre can offer to everyone.
“We fully intend to give audiences a fresh and dynamic view of this timeless classic”
Catch Macbeth at the Theatre Royal Plymouth from the 16th – 20th October 2018! Tickets are available here