Michael Nardone and Kirsty Besterman and Rufus Norris on the National Theatre tour of Macbeth
PUBLISHED: 00:00 25 September 2018
The current production of Macbeth from the National Theatre visits the Lowry Theatre in Salford from 29 September to 5 October.
We asked the two lead actors, Michael Nardone and Kirsty Besterman, and director Rufus Norris to tell us a little more.
What can audiences expect from this production of Macbeth?
RN: 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.
What was the decision behind that?
RN: 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.
Why did you want to tackle Macbeth in particular now?
RN: This is a period where there are no world wars and there have been no world wars for a while. But the number of civil wars that are going on all over the world I don’t think has ever been greater, with societies turning in on themselves and our own society turning in on itself. What the Brexit debate has laid bare is our propensity to attack each other, and with the rise of social media and the power of anonymity that comes with that - allowing people to indulge in hate speech or whatever you want to call it - we’re coming closer to the potential for anarchy. It’s also interesting, I think, to look at leaders with humanity, to look at the challenges they’re under, the isolation of that and the loneliness that can come with it. I think the primary purpose of any storytelling is to invite the audience to stand in the shoes of the people that they’re watching to increase our understanding of humanity and other people’s circumstances. Right now I don’t see a lot of that going on in debate, so I think it’s a very pertinent play in that way.
How do you feel it will resonate for contemporary audiences?
MN: We’re living in a period where, not just here but in other parts of the world, there’s so much division within society that it’s very possible some kind of civil unrest could happen. If it did, how quickly would our country descend into abject chaos - if, for example, the National Grid went down or we lost the internet, if our police forces lost control of the streets and so forth? Within probably three to four weeks we’d be living in a very different place. There’d be no law and order as such, there’d be no structure of rule, there’d be no delegation, and factions and militias would erupt here, there and everywhere and it would become a fight for survival and to protect what you have.
How would you sum up this version of Macbeth?
KB: It’s set in the near future, in a world that’s been torn apart by civil war, imagining that the National Grid has gone down so there’s no electricity, the internet doesn’t work, rubbish isn’t being collected so it’s very basic. People have gone back to an almost animal existence in a way. It’s very dark and Rufus has a thing about plastic and how it’s affecting the world - that if society broke down, if there was nothing left to salvage, there’d still be plastic everywhere. So there’s a lot of black plastic in the set, hanging from the sides and the ceiling, to represent this.
MN: The most obvious thing that makes it unique is the edit the creative team have done. If you’ve seen the play before or are studying it you’ll notice that there are textual differences. It’s been condensed to the absolute nub or core of the story. It should therefore be very accessible and very clear to everyone. Because of that I think it will be superbly engaging.
With a role like this is there research you can do?
KB: There are a million books you can read about Scottish history and the Macbeths and the kings but because of this production I didn’t feel that would be very helpful. I Googled Glamis Castle and it’s this beautiful red brick, turreted, incredible building but [laughs] we’re setting it in a bunker, although knowing how it originally was is helpful in imagining the world that’s been lost.
MN: You could go away and do tons of research. You could read the Holinshed stuff, most of which is inaccurate. You could go back and look at the chronicles of the real king Macbeth who was around in the 11th century and was on the throne for 20-odd years round about 1040 or 1050, but of course he’s a very different type of king. In fact I feel a bit sorry for that guy because his reputation has been severely maligned. A lot of people don’t know this but the real Macbeth actually went on a pilgrimage to Rome. He had an audience with the Pope and he was a very pious man who was interested in peace and equilibrium in the kingdom and did everything he could to make that happen - unlike this guy. You could have a look at what was happening socially at the time and what might have inspired him to write it, but ultimately this is a work of fiction and it’s about what you bring to what’s written on that page. What I haven’t done is go off and watch loads of other people’s Macbeths because I’m only concerned with this version. I wanted to buy into Rufus’s world, which I think is a great version of Macbeth. It’s a great vision that puts this play in a very pertinent place.