The director spoke to Love London Love Culture’s Emma Clarendon about her new gender fluid production of Macbeth, playing as part of the National Youth Theatre’s West End REP season. 

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Hi Natasha thanks so much for talking to me. What can audiences expect from this production of Macbeth? They can expect the unexpected! This production is lean and raw, stripped right back to the bone. It will be relentless and strange, funny and tender. But most of all, horrifying and tragic. They can also expect a gender fluid casting throughout the world of the play with our Macbeth played by a woman. That completely changes a lot of expectations I imagine the audience might come with. We wanted to see what the impact might be on the play behind these choices and discover what a female lead, a female tyrannical leader and murderer, might bring to the play.

How did you approach directing this production? Firstly, with the writer Moira Buffini. We would meet and discuss what we loved about the play and how we envisioned it to be. We had to be quite radical at points in what we cut, thinking about what to keep and what we could perhaps say in a different way. We wanted to be brave and not precious whilst at the same time, tread carefully in regards to the gender politics around our version and the casting. Next, and very typically for me, was to create a music playlist which conjures everything about the world of the play. This is something which I could use as a reference point for the creative team and the company and somehow, everyone would just “get it”! Not everything can be articulated and I feel things most acutely in music and rhythm so it’s my favourite platform when approaching directing a piece of work.

In the rehearsal room, the approach changed moment to moment and was an amalgamation of devising, improvising, text work and games. What united the approach was our collective desire to treat Macbeth as a new work and find our own way through it, always staying alive to the questions which would arise.

Was there anything about the play that you particularly wanted to highlight? The horror! And the absurdity which comes with that level of horror. Take for example, the murder of Lady Macduff and her Son. Just before the murderers enter, the Son is playing with his toy, a Rubik’s cube. After a struggle, one of the murderers breaks his neck (we have used the same click sound effect here to denote the neck breaking as we have with the click of a Rubik’s cube to create a hyper real tone and poetic metaphor). Straight after, the other murderer picks up the toy and completes the puzzle of the Rubik’s cube. Lady Macduff can only watch the lifeless body of her son, paralysed with fear and shock, knowing that she too will be the next victim. That’s the blend of horror and absurdity that I’m interested in trying to achieve. It’s almost unimaginable and at the same time, totally believable, operating in a multifaceted dimension.

What would you like for audiences to take away from this production? A new and fresh understanding of this classic play and its key themes, in particular surrounding the theme of gender politics. For the audience members who are studying Macbeth I would like that they take away with them a more sensual understanding of the play; to think about what they can see, hear and feel off the page. This production has moments of strong imagery, dynamic movement and staging in the empty space with a visceral soundscape designed to get under your skin. These are all devices used to unlock the audience’s imagination and get them into their bodies. I’m passionate about theatre being a place first and foremost for the body and less so as a platform for a rational, cognitive and academic understanding of something. Those discussions and debates can and should certainly take place but, only after the show! During the show I want the audience to be fully immersed in the spectacle.

How has it been working with the National Youth Theatre on Macbeth? Busy and challenging! The REP company and everybody in the production and marketing team are all simultaneously working on two other shows so there’s always a compromise to be made. The commitment and youthful vitality of the company however surpass these difficulties and I’m delighted to be directing one of their shows after having been a teacher for the NYT for the past five years.

What are you most looking forward to audiences seeing during the show? I would say the fight between Macduff and Macbeth which is wonderfully scrappy and raw, the strangeness of the Apparitions being birthed out of a giant cauldron dress on stilts, the Witches and their unapologetic enchanting and terrifying otherness, the love, the darkness, the movement sequences and the overall hyper real tone to the piece. Most of all, I look forward to the audience discovering their own images and feelings inside their imagination. There’s plenty of space and I hope that they enjoy the search for understanding and meaning. That said, to make sense, sometimes all you can do is unmake the sense. Especially in a world as horror filled as Macbeth.

By Emma Clarendon

Macbeth runs at the Garrick Theatre from 20 November to 7 December as part of the National Youth Theatre’s 2018 West End REP Season. For more information visit: https://www.nyt.org.uk/macbeth