National Theatre set to bring new take on Macbeth to Norwich Theatre Royal
PUBLISHED: 13:19 25 July 2018
As the National Theatre’s latest take on Shakespeare’s Macbeth prepares to head out on tour, arts correspondent Emma Knights finds out more about the show which will be stopping off in Norwich.
The story of Macbeth has captivated audiences for more than 400 years, and in the National Theatre’s latest production theatre-goers are propelled into a brutal post-apocalyptic world which blurs the boundaries of time.
The Bard’s famous tale of the witches’ prophecy, Macbeth’s murderous ascent to the Scottish throne, and his and Lady Macbeth’s descent into madness, is played out against a backdrop combining the play’s original setting in the turbulent 11th century with an imagined time closer to our own.
And following a London run at the National Theatre’s Olivier Theatre, the show is now being adapted so that it can head out on the road and take to the stage at theatres across the country.
Ahead of Macbeth visiting Norwich Theatre Royal in October, director Rufus Norris last week paid a trip to the city to speak about the production.
Explaining his choice of setting the show ‘now after a civil war,’ he said: “We are imagining what this world or what Scotland would be like now after a civil war, so slightly into the future when everything that we take for granted has been broken up and broken down. We are in a way combining life now with the 11th century Scottish anarchic context that Shakespeare was writing about.”
He added: “What we’ve tried to do is to put that into a context now that many people will recognise from the news - what’s going on in Syria or the Congo, or not long ago in the Balkans - so it will be updated in that sense, beyond that it will be a very clear, I hope very atmospheric, retelling of the story.”
He said the aim was to create a production which speaks to everyone, especially schoolchildren learning about Shakespeare for the first time.
“We theatre lovers will say Shakespeare is for all time, well for them (many schoolchildren) it isn’t unless you help them see that,” he said.
“It’s not about dumbing it down, it’s just about creating a context that is compelling for them.”
Rufus, who is also the National Theatre’s artistic director, said one of the reasons he picked the show for the NT programme was because Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays both on stage and in school syllabuses and has not been done at the National for some time - and that on a personal note he had long had a love affair with the play.
“It’s a play that I’ve felt a deep kind of feeling for for a long time,” he said.
“My wife is Scottish (writer Tanya Ronder) and I spend whatever time I can in Scotland...so I’ve got a great love of that part of the world.
“Also my dad was a bit of a medieval historian so whenever possible I was dragged into churches and castles so that period I am fascinated by. I’m also really interested in the pagan metaphysical sort of deeper belief system that is part of this county’s culture before Christianity came along.”
When asked what he thought was Macbeth’s enduring appeal and why it was one of the most popular of all of Shakespeare’s plays, he said: “I think there are lots of reasons. The 2D version of that is it has got lots of fighting in it and it’s full of intrigue and the stakes are high from the beginning.
“Macbeth utters one line before he meets the witches, you know it’s straight into it, we meet it at a time of war and then it gets worse, there’s lots of dynamic stuff.
“I think much deeper than that though is that, as ever, Shakespeare puts his deep-felt humanity into all of it and it’s an incredible analysis of what is a very strong marriage [between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth], a very strong relationship put under pressure until it falls apart, for me that’s a whole other layer of it, then there’s the metaphysical, the witches, which are spooky.
“You’ve got horror as well as action as well as drama - if you look at the genres of films, it ticks every box.”
Following the show’s London run, Rufus is now looking forward to taking the touring version of the production around the country.
“There are many things that I want to do while I’m the National Theatre’s artistic director but first and foremost of them for sure is to earn the title National...I think in the last 12 months 65pc of our audiences have been outside London, and that’s a combination of 10 tours that we have done this year and NT Live [where National Theatre stage shows are screened in cinemas across the country] and various other things. It’s really, really important, and I think that is only going to increase.”
• The National Theatre’s production of Macbeth will be at Norwich Theatre Royal from October 30 to November 3.
For more information and to book tickets, visit www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk or call the box office on 01603 630000.