Q&A: Artistic director Stephen Purcell talks about Macbeth at Norden Farm

Q&A: Artistic director Stephen Purcell talks about Macbeth at Norden Farm

Grace Witherden

Known as one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies, Macbeth comes to Norden Farm this month, performed by The Pantaloons. The Advertiser spoke to the artistic director, Stephen Purcell about his inspiration, Shakespeare and the cast and crew.

Could you tell me about The Pantaloons and how the group came about?

The Pantaloons started in 2004 when I was just about to start a PhD in Shakespeare and popular performance at the University of Kent.I invited a group of talented student actors together to work on an open-air production of As You Like It. The next summer, we took a production of The Winter’s Tale to the Edinburgh Fringe, and before long, we were touring.

When creating the set what other productions do you take inspiration from?

We try to keep our sets very simple, for both artistic and practical reasons! Pantaloons shows are not about realism, but about the power of suggestion – we use small details to evoke imaginary settings, and then ask the audience to join in the game of make-believe with us. Each show is different, but usually starts with an idea about how we might make a classic text speak to modern audiences in a new way. Our production of Macbeth is set in a kind of 1940s gangland, and it might remind audience members of productions like the version of The 39 Steps currently running in the West End.

How long does the whole play take to put together, from rehearsals to performance?

We don’t have long rehearsal periods. But we work with the same actors over and over again, on multiple productions over a long period of time, so we all know each other very well and are able to create work together very effectively. In one sense, then, a production might take only two or three weeks to come together, but in another sense, because we’re constantly talking about and creating work together, our productions are several years in the making.

Why did you choose Macbeth as the next play?

It’s certainly one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies. It’s also one of his most film-like plays – it’s comparatively very short, it doesn’t have any sub-plots, and it intercuts between scenes very quickly towards its climax. Like film noir, it’s about a central character who is caught up in a very violent world and takes the audience with him as he makes one disastrous moral choice after another.

Why do you think people should go and see the performance?

This is a fun, dynamic and imaginative version of Shakespeare’s play. It’s very playful theatrically – there are several ‘set pieces’ in our production which evoke the style of film noir, and they are both funny and exciting. But it’s also a detailed study of the psychology of wrongdoing. We’ve talked a lot about Breaking Bad in rehearsals – like Walter White, Macbeth tries to persuade himself (and us) at every step of the way that what he’s doing is justified

Lastly, what’s your favourite Shakespeare play – and why?

My favourite Shakespeare play is usually whichever one I’m directing at the time! So at the moment, it’s certainly Macbeth.

The Pantaloons – Macbeth is at Norden Farm on Tuesday, October 13.

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