imitating the dog built their reputation reinventing some of our biggest cultural moments, so it seemed inevitable that they would eventually turn their attention to Shakespeare.
And not just any Shakespeare as they are taking on Macbeth, and this tragic tale of the terrible cost of the lust for power seems perfect for their unique blend of theatrical daring and high-tech trickery.
Our Yorkshire Editor Paul Clarke caught with their Co-Artistic Director Andrew Quick during rehearsals to find out more about how they are reimagining a classic work.
Any self-respecting theatre fan will have seen Macbeth at least once so why should they come along to your version?
Hopefully they’ll have never seen anything like it before. Our version only has five actors in it, so we have the two Macbeths and then the three witches who play all the other characters. In our Macbeth they’re very young, so late teens or early twenties, and they’re street kids sort of in a made up city that is an amalgamation of London, Tokyo, Shanghai and LA. It’s a kind of a futuristic city in one sense, with a massive amount of crime and gangs.
But the bloody path to power for the toxic Macbeths is still at the heart of this version?
Duncan in our version is the crime lord of the city and Macbeth is a very lowly street kid who works his way up to the top. He obviously kills Duncan and becomes the head of the city. It’s got the original structure, and the original story, but it’s really twisted and turned on its head.
Last time Macbeth was at Leeds Playhouse it had a full cast, so how can you capture its complexity with only five performers?
Once you can’t do it with everybody, which is about 15 or 16, you’re left with how do we make sense of this? You can do with people wearing different hats coming on, and that never really works for me. You’ve got the core witches who to a certain extent set up this story, they plant the seeds, they are kind of the storytellers. In rehearsal we call them tricksters, they are these kinds of grotesque clowns that tell the audience they are creating this fictional world that they drop the Macbeths into. But the Macbeths don’t see them as anything other than the characters they are playing at any one point, the witches treat the audience like one of them and bring them in.
The central themes in Macbeth are lust for power, and the blood and chaos that brings, which seem to be ideas you are always exploring in your work.
One of the starting off points was the idea could we make a Macbeth where the audience really rooted for the Macbeths? One of the influences very early on was the Bonnie and Clyde film with Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, which has got those pretty hoodlum types who kill people without really much guilt, but they have this great love for each other, even though that’s complicated. When we looked at the script, at the core of this relationship, it feels sort of strange you get all this stuff about children, not children, how sexual it is, or not sexual. We took those elements and re-emphasised the fragility of that relationship. They’re more like brother and sister.
And there’s another interesting twist in this production.
We introduced a bit of backstory in our version, they were in an orphanage together, he’s looking after her and she’s been abused. There’s already a tragic story before the play starts that we find out, which at least gives some context to where they’re coming from. Hopefully that gives the audience a way into understanding some of the motivations for the decisions they make, it’s an inexorable journey we go on once they make the decision to kill Duncan.
You are famed for your innovative sound design and onstage graphics, so how does that fit into making Macbeth work for your faithful supporters?
One of the tropes we’re working on is the idea the Macbeths are being filmed all the time. The set has a big, jagged wall of flats, and two black screens that are hanging down either side, like portraits, and the Macbeths will be filmed in super close-up on those portrait screens all the time. What will make this version work is whether we can get the emotional reality and fragility in there, a desperate sense of their togetherness and their dreams that are pretty much disintegrating from the start.
People do know what they’re getting from imitating the dog, but would a more traditionalist Shakespeare fan get something out of this version?
We try to take the heart of the original play, and key elements of it. There’s a lot of questions about kingship in it, those questions are still around at the moment for obvious reasons, which we allude to. We’ve widened that to authoritarian and monarchical structures really. Why do we need these kinds of hierarchies, and even those organisations which you would think are amoral like criminal organisations seem to have the same structures of bosses, warriors and sub warriors. We’re exploring that, so hopefully the audience get the parallels between the original and our version all the time.
TOUR DATES 2023:
21-22 February – Cast, Doncaster
Box Office: 01302 303959 www.castindoncaster.com
24-25 February – Harrogate Theatre
Box Office: 01423 502116 www.harrogatetheatre.co.uk
28 February – 4 March – The Dukes, Lancaster
Box Office: 01524 598500 www.dukeslancaster.org
8-11 March -The Lowry, Salford Quays
Box Office: 0343 208 6000 www.thelowry.com
16-17 March – Gala Durham
Box Office: 03000 266600 www.galadurham.co.uk
21 March – Theater Winterthur, Switzerland
23 March – Stadttheater Schaffhausen, Switzerland
25 March – Theater Casino Zug, Switzerland
18-20 April – Mercury Theatre, Colchester
Box Office: 01206 573948 www.mercurytheatre.co.uk
25-29 April – Liverpool Playhouse
Box Office: 0151 7094776 www.everymanplayhouse.com
3-6 May – Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield
Box Office: 01484 430528 www.thelbt.org