'Debate Is Always Good' the National Theatre Is Bringing Shakespearean Tragedy Macbeth to Wales Next week.We Speak to Director Rufus Norris

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), March 15, 2019 | Go to article overview

'Debate Is Always Good' the National Theatre Is Bringing Shakespearean Tragedy Macbeth to Wales Next week.We Speak to Director Rufus Norris


Byline: Rufus Norris

Q: What can audiences expect from this production of Macbeth? A: It's in a modern setting. It's set in Scotland, but it's Scotland in perhaps five or six years' time after a long civil war, where there's been a complete breakdown of everything we take for granted in society.

So all the things that were true of Shakespeare's Macbeth - set in 11th century Scotland in times of warfare like lack of trust, rebellion, survival - are still very much at the centre of the play, but put into a context that is a bit more resonant for now.

Q: What was the decision behind that? A: Because the play is on the curriculum of so many schools it felt very important to us that young people seeing the play possibly for the first time get the text, they get what Shakespeare wrote, but that they're seeing it in a context which feels like it has some relevance to them.

Q: What challenges does Macbeth present to you as a director? A: One of the challenges it presents is the fact it's extraordinarily wellknown, which means we as audiences and artists bring a lot of baggage to it that you have to clear out of the way.

You have to really dig into the script: 'What is Shakespeare saying here?' So we've had a lot of support, from one academic in particular, Paul Prescott, who has been very helpful.

Really understanding the text helps clear away some of that baggage.

The witches and the metaphysical aspects of the play are a particular challenge.

There are superstitions that people will understand now but our Christian theology, which has been sitting over so much of the way we have built our morality or how we understand the world over the last few hundred years, didn't really exist in the time of the Macbeths in 11th century in Scotland.

There are references to God in the play, but not very many. Macduff talks about God, the Doctor talks about God, but that's about it.

In the broader sense, it's about trying to find a context for the metaphysical aspects which isn't too 'stereotypical-spooky-witch'.

Q: How have you achieved that? A: Probably the biggest liberty we've taken with the script is to cut quite a lot of what the witches say.

One reason is that in the original - or what we're told is the original because who really knows what the original is? - it's generally agreed that quite a lot of the witches' stuff was not written by Shakespeare at all, it was written by Middleton.

Beyond that you've got to bear in mind that James I had just written a book about witches and the damning of them in a way that can only be described as 'Protestant misogyny' following the reign of Elizabeth I. So the idea of these three gnarly old women stirring the cauldron doesn't feel to me like it says much about our society now.

But the idea that nature - in some ways what the witches in this production represent - is in some way giving us our just desserts, does.

Q: Why did you want to tackle Macbeth in particular now? A: This is a period where there are no world wars and there have been no world wars for a while. …

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