Venue goes backstage: Macbeth at the Norwich Theatre Royal

Last spring one of the UK’s most reputable theatre institutions, the National Theatre, staged a new production of Macbeth, Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy. Directed by the theatre’s Artistic Director Rufus Norris, the production had a sold-out run in London and is now on a national tour, stopping at Norwich’s Theatre Royal from 30th October to 3rd November. Before attending the opening night performance, Concrete was invited behind the scenes of this chilling production to see how National Theatre Productions transforms a production from city to city.

Despite the production’s dysfunctional use of the set, it’s hard not to fall in love with the artistic intention behind it all. The production, set 10-15 years in the future following a horrific civil war, creates an unsettling dystopian atmosphere through the use of Rae Smith’s striking set design, Paul Arditti’s chilling sound, and Paul Pyant’s ghostly lighting. Being up close and personal with the production’s set and its many apocalyptic props makes you have a greater appreciation for the detailing that goes into the creation of mood and atmosphere in the production. Although many of these details won’t be seen by the audience, they are still pivotal in creating the world for not just the audience, but also the actors.

One of the production’s most striking aspects (which is the case for most productions of Macbeth) is the portrayal of the witches. In Norris’s production, the witches are a product of the deteriorating environment surrounding the characters. Dressed in tattered plastic matching the dressing on the set, the witches behave almost like primordial beings, climbing up poles and speaking backwards. The witches and their insane behavior end up being one of the most intriguing and unsettling parts of the production.

The tour also highlighted a few important details that might be overlooked when watching the show; for instance, Norris and his cast decided to allow each actor to use their own regional accent, creating a production that is less pretentious and more accessible to the average viewer. Siân Wiggins, the company manager, also noted that one of the reasons why Norris decided to remove the most iconic lines from the play, which caused much criticism from reviewers, was because it is generally believed by academics that Shakespeare did not write these lines. Knowing these details about the creative process and the inspiration behind key details in the production makes viewing the show much more enjoyable.

Macbeth plays at the Norwich Theatre Royal until 3rd November.

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Shelby Cooke

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January 2022
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