Rufus Norris, Artistic Director of the National Theatre production of Macbeth, tells us about his inspiration to produce Shakespeare's bloodiest play.
You were sixteen when you first saw a production of Macbeth. As a remounted version of your 2018 production goes out on tour, the effect seeing Shakespeare’s bloodiest and darkest play had clearly stayed with you.
When I first saw Macbeth it really grabbed me and I want to try and grab the thousands of students who are studying the play, and who rather than just read the text can see it for themselves.
You’ve set your production of Macbeth in a historical no-man’s-land with some significant parallels to world events today.
For me, whenever I make a piece of work, it’s important to find some kind of resonance to the time we’re living in now. There’s a real political prescience to Macbeth that speaks very much about now regarding some of the actions of world leaders that are currently being played out. We don’t have to look too far from our own shores to be able to see that, or what’s going on in Syria for example. Damascus was a democratic city six years ago, but if you look at what’s happened since then, it’s not difficult to recognise something similar in Macbeth.
One of the most striking features of Norris’ production is Rae Smith’s apocalyptic-looking set. Was it difficult to redesign the set for the tour?
The key difference from the original staging is that we’re touring to proscenium arch theatres. That gives us the space to look at things afresh, particularly in the case of the witches. There’s a sense that the witches are human but are humans who’ve had to adapt to this very hostile landscape.
There have been so many adaptations of the Macbeth story. How did you approach yours?
There’s a very two-dimensional way of looking at Macbeth, which is to say that Macbeth is madness incarnate, and Lady Macbeth is the epitome of evil. That’s too simplistic, so you have to find a context to do the play that humanises things. Macbeth is a fantastic story about how a strong marriage can be put under pressure because of the decisions the couple make, and the drama comes from the human consequences of that.
What do you hope audiences will get from this production?
‘What I hope is that the audience will get a very rich and very clear telling of the story, and I think it has to be for everybody. In terms of this production, I think it’s very atmospheric. It is dark, and it has to be dark. It’s not a comedy. Most of all, I hope it will capture a real sense of the play’s humanity.
Interview by Neil Cooper
Macbeth at Festival Theatre Edinburgh, 23-27 October.