Arts

Rufus Norris on bringing National Theatre's new Macbeth to Belfast

Anne Hailes meets Rufus Norris, artistic director of the National Theatre, to talk about bringing their new production of Macbeth to Belfast

Michael Nardone as Macbeth in the National Theatre's new production

SOON the National Theatre opens in Belfast with 'that Scottish play', otherwise known as Macbeth. It’s considered unlucky to mention the title as a superstition has grown up that, if you do, disaster will befall.

One actor explained that, being a very intense and physical play featuring daggers and swords, there’s bound to be dangers: there have been many injuries, and the Bard himself is supposed to have included black magic spells in the incantation of the three witches – 'double, double, toil and trouble' and all that.

Macbeth first opened in August 1606 and it would be some sort of miracle if indeed there hadn’t been disasters over the 413 years since! And of course Macbeth himself has a very unfortunate tale to tell, as we’ll see on March 5 to 9 at the Grand Opera House in Belfast.

This play has lost none of its appeal over the years, an outrageous story of witches predicting that Macbeth will become King of Scotland. He makes sure of it by plotting and murder – be warned there are extremely violent scenes followed by guilt, obsession and delusion.

When he was in Belfast recently Rufus Norris, artistic director of the National Theatre, talked about the new production and how he came to be heading up one of the most iconic companies in the world.

"My mum was a piano teacher, my father taught in universities and we grew up all over the world," he told me.

"I was one of six children and we all had to learn two instruments, so performing was in my blood! Then, as a teenager, I met a girl in a youth theatre – this became the centre of my social life and a theatrical love affair was born."

Rufus was a painter and decorator in the building trade before being admitted to Rada, where he studied drama and discovered he favoured directing before winning the Evening Standard Theatre Award for outstanding newcomer in 2001.

It’s interesting to talk to a man who lives and breaths theatre: Rufus has a clutch of awards for his films, but it’s stage that has presented his biggest challenge.

He’s always on the ball. Within days of the 2016 Brexit referendum, he had a team travelling around Britain and the north gathering views of people aged 9 to 97 – this resulted in an honest play reflecting what people thought, the 'for' and 'against', the agony and the ecstasy. My Country: A Work in Progress by Carol Anne Duffy and directed by Rufus was a fascinating touring show which was staged at the Derry Playhouse.

Rufus Norris likes to be current in his thinking, so in this new production of Macbeth he takes Shakespeare's classic and brings it into a post-apocalyptic world of anarchy and uncertainty.

"This play illuminates the state of the world today and although we use modern dress, the words are Shakespeare's," he explained.

"We fully intend to give audiences a fresh and dynamic view of this timeless classic. I'm particularly delighted that it's on the curriculum. Education is vital and theatre can play an important part."

His interest in spreading the word is achieved through the live televising of National Theatre plays, where audiences around the world can sit in the comfort of a cinema and enjoy the show as it unfolds on the stage. The National make these showings free to schools and some 2,000 have signed up for them.

 

This is the first Shakespeare play Rufus has directed in 25 years and it’s been an example of teamwork. Plans were laid months ago, talking to the Opera House's technical manager Paula Freeman about the set plan, making special requirements, organising articulated trucks and transporting the set.

The 2.2 tonne bridge will be built high across the stage, 34 people in the production will arrive, 19 of them are cast members who get here by plane and bus, 18 cities in all since they opened in London's Oliver Theatre last September.

 

This artistic director is dedicated to his company and to his audiences:

"Being a national theatre means getting out of London and touring the country to bring the best theatre to the people," he told me.

Certainly, in the hands of a distinguished cast led by Michael Nardone as Macbeth and Kirsty Besterman as Lady Macbeth, we are in for a treat.

: Macbeth, March 5 to 9, Grand Opera House, Belfast. Visit GOH.co.uk for tickets and showtimes.

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