Anuj Mishra in conversation with the Alice Chakraborty (Producer), Andrew Raynes (Director), and Juliette Imbert (Lady Macbeth), from Happier Year Productions’ staging of Macbeth in 2nd Week on tragedy, why we love Lady Macbeth, and reimagining Shakespeare…
This is, of course, one of Shakespeare’s most well-known tragedies, and has, according to the Cherwell archives, been performed in Oxford theatres five times in the last ten years. What drew you to putting on this production and facing the mammoth challenge of playing Shakespeare?
Andrew: What really draws me to Macbeth, and has done for years, is the strength of the other characters, and their relationships. For me, for example, that Macduffs’ marriage is falling apart is just as important as the marriage between Lady Macbeth and Macbeth.
Alice: When we were deciding what play we wanted to put on in Trinity, we knew we wanted to go for something more ‘classical’. In choosing Macbeth, we wanted to focus on those peripheral characters and relationships rather than just making it a very plain tragedy about one guy. It’s because of that that we have a larger cast than is strictly necessary: we wanted to make people and their characters distinctive.
Your description of the play says that this production “reimagines Macbeth for audiences of today”: what’s new here that audiences can expect from Macbeth?
Alice: Shakespeare gives us so much space to sort of deal with psychological problems, which aren’t always necessarily textual, but really come through in rehearsals and give the performance a higher level of connection with the audience.
Andrew: Along those lines of psychological exploration, we’re reimagining the witches in terms of how we can best represent the supernatural as it would have been for 17th Century audiences. This society was obsessed with and had precise notions of the supernatural, whereas today our collective anxieties are far more distant. We’re trying to carry out a sort of ‘temporal translation’ in representing the witches as a manifestation of these.
I’d usually ask for a brief outline of the play at this point, but I imagine most of our readers are familiar with the plot. Instead, what are the cast-favourite moments in the play?
Juliette: I’m looking forward to the porter coming and doing his speech: it’s such a nice bit of comedic relief in the middle of the play. A lot of productions of Macbeth just take it out, and there’s a view that it’s inappropriate to have comedy at this point, but I feel like it’s very important in tragedies to break it up, otherwise it’s just intense the whole way through.
Also, the scene where Macbeth starts chickening out and says he’s not going to kill Duncan and I (as Lady Macbeth) have to sway him. In rehearsal we talked about the psychology of what’s going on there, and we’re doing our best to not have Lady Macbeth being manipulative the whole way through just for the sake of it.
We’ve talked quite a bit about Lady Macbeth, and there has certainly been a turn recently in popular debate and in productions towards humanising her and examining in more detail her motivations. Let’s have a go at describing her in three words:
Juliette: Insecure, desperate, clever.
Alice: Powerful but scared.
Andrew: Loyal, well-intentioned, caring.
(Andrew’s words are met with vigorous nods around the room)
What visuals, in terms of set design and staging, can audiences expect as we settle down to Macbeth in the Pilch?
Alice: Realism is not necessarily a priority. The Pilch is, at the end of the day, a black-box theatre, and we’re never going to be able to recreate a medieval castle, even if we wanted to. Luckily, we don’t want to.
Andrew: As it is, we are planning on having a very bare stage. It’s going to be atmosphere to the roof (literally). We’re trying to create space with lighting and sound. When you’re working with such a small theatre and a play with such a range of settings, I think going with non-traditional staging is the most efficient and interesting way of doing things.
Any final thoughts?
Andrew: Macbeth won’t be a lengthy, three-hour tragedy (Happier Year’s version is closer to an hour-and-a-half), what better way to spend the Coronation bank holiday weekend?
Macbeth will run at the Michael Pilch Theatre from the 3rd until the 6th of May. Tickets are on sale now at https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/happieryearproductions?fbclid=PAAaapdDJXTYsbMZQ2SwP_DHZM7movyVk7mXJVMr0Xk_CwI7iQtCmZJHbbSTk