Bringing the worlds of Shakespeare, circa the early 17th century, to the modern day – with an underground twist – Insane Root theatre company invite you to their original adaptation of Macbeth.
Unusually, the play, which was originally written somewhere between the year 1599 and 1606, will be brought into the spotlight this summer, and performed inside Redcliffe Caves. Produced by theatre company, Insane Root, they will be introducing audiences to the powerfully emotive tragedy written by Shakespeare.
Often regarded as a politically charged tale, the play charts the moral dilemmas faced by the characters Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, King Duncan, Banquo and the rest – as they compete in various struggles to obtain personal power. This is one of Shakespeares’ shortest tragedies, depicting the journey of Scottish general, Macbeth who receives a prophecy from a trio of witches who insist he is to become the King of Scotland. The drama that unfolds, is sparked by Macbeth’s relentless ambition to secure his place on the throne. So much so, he murders King Duncan, to take the coveted place himself.
“It really feels like a place where witches and the supernatural elements of the play would feel perfectly at home.”
Ultimately, this wrong doing will alter the personality of Macbeth irrevocably, who becomes overwhelmed with guilt, and creates an alternate ego for himself, resulting in yet more murders along the way. This escalates into a futile, violent lifestyle for Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, which will degenerate into madness and eventually, death.
Undoubtedly, Shakespeare was inspired by the accounts of Macbeth, King of Scotland, Macduff and Duncan in Holinshed’s Chronicles from 1587. Yet, the story of Macbeth has also been linked to the events of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605.
Insane Root were established by Director Hannah Drake and Producer Justin Palmer. Alongside a team of dedicated and passionate theatre enthusiasts, including Ellie Showering (Musical Director), Sarah Warren (Set & Costume Designer) and Edmund McKay (Lighting & Technical Designer), they bring the complex narratives of Shakespeare to contemporary audiences across the UK.
This darkly disturbing narrative is given a fresh dimension by Insane Root’s cast of talented actors, directors and producers. Last year, Macbeth was received with incredible, positive reviews and returns this year with as much anticipation as 2015’s run.
We caught up with Insane Root’s Producer, Justin and Director Hannah about the forthcoming production of Macbeth taking place at Redcliffe Caves from 8 June – 14 July. Be sure to book your tickets, and experience the true atmosphere of the performance as it is brought alive in the haunting surroundings of the underground world.
How long did the production of Macbeth take to get from page to stage, and did you need to adapt it specifically to be performed in the caves?
Justin: It was around two and a half years I think. I first encountered the Redcliffe Caves after watching a BBC Points West news report about a theatre company performing some kind of Greek myth in there. I immediately thought to myself that it would be an incredible location for the right story.
I can remember Hannah being one of the first people who seemed genuinely excited about the idea. After our initial conversation we agreed to meet up and talk about how we could turn Macbeth at the Redcliffe Caves into a reality. We made the choice that Hannah would direct and I would produce it and, at that stage, possibly perform in it. It then took us over a year to cut the play down to our promenade version, arrange with the Council about using the caves, cast it, market it and perform it.
What has it been like to stage the play within the Redcliffe Caves?
Justin: From day one of the cut of the play we knew we had to make Shakespeare’s words mean something in that location. Otherwise there is no point of putting it on in such an inhospitable place. Unless you can combine the action, the characters motivations and their reason for existing in such a place then you might as well just do it in a theatre. But we wanted it to look like these people lived there – this was their cave, their environment, their walls. The caves was a great set and backdrop. The darkness and the coldness of the caves feels like you are transported back in time – you can even see the breath of actors in the air.
Hannah: Unlike many historic sites that have been taken over by institutions like the National Trust, the Redcliffe Caves still feel quite wild. The venue has no lighting but when you bring candlelight and torches into it you can see how red the earth is – so, symbolically, it feels like the blood-spattered earth of Scotland under the reign of Macbeth, and the darkness of the space seems exactly right for what has been seen as Shakespeare’s darkest tragedy. It really feels like a place where witches and the supernatural elements of the play would feel perfectly at home, and our interpretation of the witches in the play has been directly impacted by the environment of our production. We see them as people who have either been banished to the caves, or who grew from it – they have their own language, and their blend of singing and unearthly noises go very far to establishing the eerie, tragic, atmosphere of the production.
Did you have to make some significant adaptations to the original play?
Justin: One major adaptation for our cave version was the positioning of the witches. We wanted to make the witches terrifying again, as we both felt that Western contemporary audiences have, on the whole, lost their belief or fear of witchcraft. We found that a lot of the witches’ text in the play is rather childish and would not scare a modern audience who have become acclimatised to gory horror films. We made the decision that the witches had to be a strong, mostly silent presence in the caves. That the caves are their nest and that they drive the action of the play along, moving characters and audience around at will. From this early textual work, we then worked closely with our exceptionally talented Musical Director Ellie Showering on creating a new witch language through noises, clicks, wails, and song. This then became intrinsic to how the witches interacted physically with each other and how they would move through and around the caves.
Are you well versed in Shakespeare and what do you find most inspiring about the language used and how it still influences us today?
Hannah: We have a fair amount of experience of Shakespeare (during training I was mentored by Andrew Hilton of Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory and Justin has performed in and co-directed several plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries; I have also directed TIE tours for the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School) and we each have a wish-list of his plays we’re keen to do, but our interests are pretty broad: encompassing new writing and adaptations on top of the classics. That said, there is something incredibly resonant about Shakespeare’s writing in particular that keeps drawing us back to it – his phrases litter the English language, and – for me at least – I find it really inspiring to tap into a tradition of poetry and performance that has been consistently performed for 400 years. He also writes the best, most creative, insults! Hours of entertainment….
How will this year’s production compete to last year’s and have you worked with a similar cast?
Justin: We hope Macbeth 2016 will be an enhanced version of last year’s production. Whilst in many ways it will be the same production we are looking to change some elements of the 2015 show to make it a sleeker, faster and rawer version. The main changes will include some new music compositions and songs, three new cast members joining us, a slightly new route around the caves allowing for better audience sightlines and finally more seating!
Has it been tough to translate the intensity of the characters in the original play, and how do your cast members replicate this and get into role?
Hannah: Tragedies are always a challenge in the sense that you are dealing with heightened emotions, high stakes actions and life and death. But being in the cave environment, which is like stepping back in time, and spying on actors wearing medieval costumes lit by candlelight, means neither the actors nor the audience have to suspend their disbelief in the same way as in a traditional theatre. It feels like you’re really there in the action, and the modern world has melted away. So the design of this production plays a really significant part in helping the actors into role. As Justin says, we’ve also made specific artistic choices, like removing a lot of the witches’ original lines in favour of something scarier and more alien, to amp up the intensity of the experience for the audience. For the actors, each of them has a different approach to getting into role; some like to spend extra time in the cave immersing themselves in the environment, for others it’s a fight call that helps switch them into focus, and for others it’s as simple as getting into costume. The whole company gets together before each performance to run music and become an ensemble, though, and that’s part of the magic of this production.
What do you find most energising about working in the field of theatre and working on inspiring productions with the ability to leave their mark on audiences for years to come?
Justin: I find telling old stories in new ways energising. By putting a well-known and well-trodden tale like Macbeth into the Redcliffe Caves it unlocks the play again for a new audience. The most exciting thing for me about theatre is that closeness to the performers. With our shows we really look to push the audience and actors contact so that there is a shared energy that courses through the performance. It is important for an audience to feel connected to the characters and feel that they are part of something.
For me, what I love about immersive and site-specific performance is the excitement of the unknown journey. I enter a space and I have no idea where I will end up, who will be making contact with me or what will happen. Rather than confined to a comfortable seat I can explore my new geography, I can watch the action from any angle, I can have direct contact with the characters and I will feel a genuine connection with the rest of the audience. This is what we set out to achieve with Macbeth.Why do you think it is so important to educate future generations about the legacy left behind by Shakespeare?
Hannah: I think there is a danger that Shakespeare is treated a bit too seriously – there are many purists out there who may be upset with some of the liberties we’ve taken with our text! But the wonderful thing about Shakespeare’s legacy is that it is so robust. It’s poetic and funny and tragic. It has some of the most profound ideas and statements ever written in our language. It’s rich and enriching. So, by sharing and perfoming his plays we get to be part of a golden thread of theatre tradition, engaging with companies and actors and directors who have gone before, and hopefully inspiring and passing it on to future generations to have their conversation with it. I also feel very passionately that Shakespeare was writing for everyone, and there is a danger of it becoming the reserve of an ‘elite few’ unless we commit to making it as accessible as possible.
Finally, who is your most likeable character in Macbeth, and for what reasons?
Hannah: For me, probably Banquo. That’s partly due to Zachary Powell’s heartfelt and cheeky performance (also rather stunning singing voice), but also in terms of a character that feels – but resists – the temptation offered by the supernatural in the play. There is something really interesting about a character that confronts darkness and decides not to lose themselves in it. His fate, for me, is one of the most tragic in the play.
Macbeth will be performed by Insane Root, at Redcliffe Caves, from 8 June – 14 July 2016. For tickets and more information: www.insaneroot.co.uk
Words: Demelza Durston