Q&A : The Tragedy of Macbeth
In The Tragedy of Macbeth, Flabbergast Theatre conjures its usual intoxicating blend of puppetry, clown, mask, ensemble and physical theatre to create their first ever text-based show, performing a dark and visceral manifestation of the work’s essence and underlying themes. On the backdrop of a stripped down set, the full textural quality of the human drama takes centre stage, in an experience that is both exhilarating and approachable.
With a typical Flabbergast Theatreperformance that aims to appeal both to the new and established theatregoers, we were eager to find out more about their unique style and motivations.
Is it more rewarding to consume Shakespeare in a more instinctive way?
Shakespeare can often be thought of as intellectual or academic and certainly there are huge depths to the plays, but this is often a result of the way it is studied in schools.The plays are meant to be watched not read, they are visceral human stories about emotions that we all feel and experience.
Our focus is on storytelling and delivering a concise and exciting version of the play, we pride ourselves on making the text and the story line as clear as is possible, we have several ensemble members who speak English as a second language.For them, the idea of performing Shakespeare was initially nerve wracking but they now revel in how easy the text is to understand.
Through our process we have forensically dissected the language and verse of Shakespeare, using it to communicate more clearly, as indeed it was first intended to do.
Often Shakespeare will use flowery poetry alongside more direct explanations, this was because he was writing for two distinct audiences, those of the court and those in the pit, an example is:
‘Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood
clean from my hand? No - this my hand will rather
the multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.’
‘multitudinous seas incarnadine’ is a poetic way of saying ‘making all the oceans crimson’ but if you don’t happen to know what multitudinous or incarnadine mean Shakespeare has also given us ‘making the green one red’.
The text is spoken at a lick, and I think sometimes people worry that they miss bits but we would advise letting it wash over you and allowing for the fact that there are archaisms that may not be fully understandable now, also bear in mind that Shakespeare created his own words where they did not exist...for example the first recorded use of ‘bubble’ is in this play.
Do you think society will ever go beyond the masculine fear of feminine power?
The fear of feminine power is a construct of our society and not one that I believe is innate to human interaction. Whilst men as a general rule have more physical strength and can dominate the physical world, women (again generally) have relied on psychological techniques to achieve their aims, this is fearsome because it is far more subtle, one can see how big your contemporaries and enemies are but not necessarily know how clever they can be.Lady Macbeth manipulates and convinces Macbeth with her words to get what she wants and by doing so unleashes a monster that she cannot control in the physical realm.
Witchcraft and spells are about affecting the physical world through metaphysical means, it wasn’t a far leap for a man (with questionable morals) afraid of losing his status in a patriarchal society to resort to accusations of witchcraft; the witch-hunts became a convenient way to murder innocent ‘trouble-makers’ and subdue the remaining female population in terror.
All that said and to come back to your original question; whist I think there will always be friction between people who want different things (regardless of gender), as toxic masculinity becomes less permissible, gender identities begin to be recognised as not entirely binary, and physical dominance becomes less important we can hope that the insecurities that men have about their tentative grip on power will become irrelevant.
New archaeological discoveries have confirmed the long suspected idea that our feminine ancestors were powerful hunters and warriors and it is accepted that women in Viking (and many other) communities were lauded and respected rather than supressed, let us hope that this persecution was a blip in our history and that the fear, which often comes from insecurity, becomes an irrelevance.
Do you find that highly stylised, stripped set design helps us better focus on the characters?
With this show specifically, we wanted to present as an ensemble of transmutable spirits, witches and sprites engaged a ritual re-telling of the play, the performers multirole and there is a moment of confusion and hallucination which reflect Macbeth’s ‘strange affliction’ and descent into sleep deprived madness... the witches are ever present, embodying and possessing characters, conducting the action and delighting in the confusion and discord.
Poor theatre is said to be:
‘Using the smallest amount of fixed elements to obtain maximum results by means of the magical transformation of objects, through the props’ multifunctional ‘acting’. To create complete worlds using only the things to hand.’ - Ludwik Flaszen
And was something Grotowski espoused as a reaction to theatre more obsessed with effects and spending money than reaching its audiences.That type of theatre still exists, and our reaction to it is still as important today as it was in the 60’s and 70s.
In Flabbergast we feel that we should embrace all that is wonderful about the theatre, heightening and stylising in pursuit of theatricality, and eschewing fourth wall presentations in favour of communion with our audiences and involving them in the action.
Does Shakespeare need more lucid interpretations? Are we distancing ourselves from the real meanings of his plays by romanticising the historical characteristics? Or are we in fact closer to his intended meaning by zooming in on the human drama, rather than the context of the action?
My personal belief is that one of the main reasons that Shakespeare remains more popular now than many of his contemporaries is because his plays are specifically about human interactions and struggles. There are contexts and the plays are not apolitical; this play was written in part to flatter James I and to reinforce the concept of the divine right of Kings, Macbeth’s ascension to the throne being ‘unnatural’ and doomed because God had not willed it, Banquo is hailed ‘Father to a line of Kings’ and James I is thought to have been a descendant of the historical Banquo.
Even without the historical context the play can be enjoyed as a parable against greed and ambition. Macbeth is not suited to the role of King and his paranoia and self-concern lead him to tyrannical acts, I’m sure we can all call to mind contemporary figures of a similar disposition even if the rule of law restrains them from their worst excesses.
Flabbergast has its own blend of puppetry, clown, mask, ensemble and physical theatre. What do you think is the biggest surprise of this show for your loyal fans?
This project marks a progression for the company but one that stays true to our ethos, irreverent approach and the theatre arts that we have historically relied upon. We have scaled up to mid-scale out of black box spaces and this is the first time that we have taken an existing narrative as a source.
Whilst puppetry isn’t at the fore in this interpretation, my training in it informs all of our work.
Clowning, buffon and a sense of joy feature prominently offsetting the tragic space and themes.
We have started exploring Butoh (Japanese ‘Dance of Darkness’) with guidance from Marie-Gabrielle Rotie (The Northman) and have significantly developed our physical language whilst training with Matej Matejka (Grotowski Institute). Add to this Adam Clifford’s brilliant musical arrangement and we have a show that should delight our fans and introduce new audiences to our work.
Do you find that creating the semblance of chaos requires great attention to detail?
Creating chaos requires the ability to truly entertain chaos, something that we revel in and facilitated a great deal in Polish forests during our research and development, that said it requires technique and discipline to truly harness and bend to the service of the play.
Buffon (grotesque, and often satirical, clown) is something that we utilised a lot in the process, and then in the performance of this piece, our ensemble are all very playful and through the process of building our working language we have developed a great complicité and trust.
Our process is routed in devising and as a director I am more interested in encouraging the creative potential of the ensemble than having ‘Uber Marionettes’ carry out my commands, this frequently leads to beautiful, surprising, and chaotic ideas that I could never have imagined myself.
The Tragedy of Macbeth, Assembly Roxy (Central), 12pm, 4-29 August (not 17)