Macbeth | Pre-Show Talk | Chichester Festival Theatre

Lucinda: Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen. Thank you so much for coming to the latest of these pre-show talks. My name is Lucinda Morrison. I’m head of Press here at the theatre. I’m filling in for the wonderful Kate Mosse who couldn’t be with us tonight. I’m enormously honoured and privileged and delighted to be talking to Paul Miller. He’s the director of this production of Macbeth. Welcome, Paul. Paul: Thank you very much. Lucinda: I should say first of all maybe I’ll do what Kate normally does I’ll just try and get a sense of how many people have seen this production already. Anybody? A few. Anybody coming tonight? Right. The rest of you have yet to book your tickets. That’s fine. I do have to say that you’re in for an absolute treat. It’s a spectacular production but because of that there’s quite a lot to get ready so we do only have half an hour for this talk. We’re going to talk fast. We first worked together, I think, at the National Theatre a few years ago. What I only learnt earlier this year is in fact you are Chichester born and bred. Paul: I am in fact a Cicestrian. That’s the posh term for it, yes. This is the first time that I’ve worked here so it’s a real treat and a pleasure and a privilege to be here. Lucinda: You are literally (Chichester) born and bred? Paul: Born and raised around here. Thus I saw what was probably my first professional theatre production on this stage in 1974, I worked out. There was a Christmas show called “Follow the Star”. It was directed by Wendy Toye. It was absolutely marvelous. I remember it vividly. It had a split-level set with a slide on it and it was a kind of jazz retelling of the Nativity story. I think Sir Tony Robinson was in it. The one thing I can remember vivdly was that we got to throw foam snowballs from the stage. To my great regret I haven’t so far worked out how to get that into Macbeth. (Laughter) Lucinda: There’s still time Paul: We’re in previews. Lucinda: Absolutely, watch this space. So that was the first thing you saw here? Paul: I’m pretty sure. Lucinda: Was that what made you want to get into theatre? Did you do theatre at school? Paul: It was school. The schools around here are fantastic but the key turning point really was going to Bishop Luffa School. There at that time were a lot of fantastic teachers. There were four in particular, English teachers, there was a group of them. They were very brilliant, funny, clever, imaginative, combative, original, sort of liberal robust. They threw themselves into making all sorts of off-curriculum things happen. Because of course drama wasn’t on the curriculum then at that point. So everything that we did, they made happen out of school hours. It was really remarkable what they did. So I began to get more and more drawn into being in all kinds of theatrical activities and plays and things. I began to become more and more imaginatively immersed in that. At the same time I was coming to see things here of course more and more regularly. To my amazement, the other day, in a moment when I should have been doing my homework I went instead on to the Festival Theatre website where there’s an incredibly good archive. I thought I’ll work out how many productions I actually saw here. I thought it might be 15 or 20. I worked out I’d seen 35 productions on this stage. It was extraordinary, most of them through the 1980s I suppose. So it was the combination of those two things and then working out that you could get on a train and go to London and see plays there. Then it all coalesced. Lucinda: Fantastic and at what point did you decide that you wanted to be a director? Paul: Well this is where it gets weird because I can’t explain it. All those things were happening and then at the most ludicrously young age, I’ve worked out now I think it was when I was 16, I decided that I wanted to be a theatre director and bent the arc of my life towards making that happen and astonishingly made it happen. I marvel at it to this day. Lucinda: Did you get encouragement from teachers? Paul: I did. I can’t see everybody, I need to ask:- “Is Barry Smith here?” “He’s not here.” If Barry’s not here then I can then I can tell this story. Barry Smith who was then the head of English at Bishop Luffa was directing me when I was still acting in “The Importance of Being Earnest”. Lucinda: Which role were you playing? Paul: I was playing Algernon. After rehearsals one day I vividly remember I was slightly embarrassedly saying to him:- “Look the thing is, Mr Smith, that I’ve decided I want to be in the theatre” and he looked a bit downcast. He started looking at his shoes a little bit and sort of muttering. He started saying:-“Well the thing is I would worry a little bit maybe about your your range.” I thought “Range? What’s he on about?” and I said:- “Oh no, I don’t want to be an actor I want to direct.” At this point his entire countenance lit up and he said:- “Oh that’s marvelous, that’ll be fantastic.” I tried to take it not as a comment on my acting. He was very encouraging from that point on. Lucinda: Marvelous. Well we have to gallop ahead because you’re now artistic director of the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond. This, as you said, is your first production back here on the Festival Theatre stage. Why Macbeth? Paul: The chief thing that brought this about was my working relationship with John Simm. I’ve directed him on a number of occasions over many years now, going back about 20 or more years. We had worked on a production of Hamlet together at The Crucible Theatre in Sheffield nearly ten years ago. The Crucible Theatre is a very similar shape and size to this stage. He was absolutely brilliant in the part, really astonishing. I think it only added to his appetite for playing the works of this writer and these parts. He really wanted to play this part and we said we’d work on something else together. It’s taken all this time then a whole series of happy circumstances came about last year. This opportunity came up so we seized on it. In the meantime he’d been having conversations with Dervla. They’ve been working on a series together and it seemed obvious to them, and my goodness it is obvious, they’re fantastic together in the two parts. The whole thing just seemed like too good an opportunity to miss. Lucinda: Wonderful. We don’t want to give away too much about the staging. There are lots of wonderful surprises and so on. Macbeth seems to me to be an unusual a tragedy. It takes a lot of staging decisions I imagine, simply because of the presence of the supernatural. The witches and the hallucinations alongside the sort of action of a thriller. So where do you start with something like that? Paul: It seems to me, what I thought about it, was that of all the different plays it doesn’t seem to suit relocating to a very recognisable contemporary setting. Others of the plays do but I didn’t think it did. This is partly because of the supernatural but also because, weirdly, the modes of killing in the play are so specified and brutal, primitive. If you’re in a world of guns it suddenly doesn’t make any sense. So I thought it had to be set in some recognisable world that was nearly out of reach. But where you could both recognise a military patriarchal society but nonetheless where rather primitive violence was still possible. That’s the kind of world we’ve aimed for really I suppose. Lucinda: We’re on this very spectacular glass-floored set. There’s a screen behind so it it feels contemporary. You’re using a lot of contemporary technology. Paul: Yes, the facilities here are fantastic so Simon Daw, the designer, has come up with this incredible space which also goes a long way I hope to answering a kind of key conundrum of this stage and the play. The play is a journey of really two people and then finally one person’s journey into the interior. Really it’s a psychological play, a psychological thriller I suppose. Yet it also has these epic things that have to happen. Here’s a stage which is an epic stage and yet how do you focus it so that this singular psychological journey into an abyss can happen? Those who see it will hopefully see that this stage does manage to do both of those things. Lucinda: You managed to use the whole auditorium. Having seen all those 35 productions on this stage was that a help? When you came to actually do it yourself were thinking:- “Oh goodness!” Paul: It was a bit daunting when I think of the people that I’ve seen on this stage. But no, I think it helped. I think the configuration of this stage which, in its day, in 1962 a very radical, revolutionary shape of the stage I think it’s probably partly responsible. I came here at an impressionable age for my sense of space. You have to work in space not in 2D. In the old proscenium theatres it’s about making basically a two-dimensional picture for people to look at. You write your signature on that. Here it’s about space and movement. So I think it probably was responsible for developing my sense of that. But it was a bit intimidating. Of course what’s incredible is because even though I hadn’t worked here I was very keenly aware of what the facilities were here in the 70s and 80s. This place has undergone a radical transformation not that long ago. People like Patrick Garland would absolutely be goggling at the amount of equipment and facilities that there is here now. Also what you can do on this stage. Lucinda: Does all that new technology really help with things like the supernatural? Paul: Oh yes, hugely. Again I don’t want to give anything away. Lucinda: Absolutely not. You said you didn’t want to make it too contemporary. But somehow Macbeth always does seem to be hideously relevant and especially at the moment. It’s a play about power and the abuse of power. I can’t quite think why that should come to mind at the moment. (Laughter) Paul: It’s a stretch. That’s the other reason in a way for not pinning it, to making him Donald Trump or something. It has to live as a metaphor. It’s better if it does. It’s more potent if it does. If you can project onto it and say:- “Oh my God that reminds me of X or Y”, then it lives more potently than if you’re actually depicting X or Y. But yes, it is hugely a parable about desire for power and the acquisition of power. Also what you need to have in you to get it and what happens to you when you get it. Also how it can destroy you and all around you. So yes, we’re struggling for relevance really. (Laughter) Lucinda: About the text, are you doing it uncut? It’s one of the shorter tragedies and there are no subplots. Paul: It is shorter than “King Lear”and it’s certainly shorter than “Hamlet”. It has a lot of moving parts to it that tend to flesh it out I suppose I thought, being on the big stage here, and we needed to put on a bit of a show, that it is often cut in the smaller theatres, what would happen if we did pretty much the whole text? One big exception which is that I’ve cut, for those of you know it, the Hecate scene. There seems to be a scholarly consensus that it was written by Thomas Middleton. It’s so totally different so we didn’t do that. But you get everything else. You get the full roast dinner. Lucinda: Marvellous, and all the trimmings. You’ve just reminded me when you said “for those who know the story”. I’m interested because we can so easily assume that it’s “Macbeth”. Everybody knows “Macbeth”. But that’s not necessarily the case. Paul: It isn’t the case. it’s not the case for any Shakespeare play. People are well advised to bear that in mind. On any given night there will be a sizeable number of people for whom it is a new play. A new story. Working in a theatre it’s always surprising when you mention a Shakespeare play and somebody you think has been in the theatre for 40 years says:- “Do you know I’ve never actually seen that play!” You have to tell the story as if it’s a new story. Lucinda: On the other side there are people who have done it for “O” level and “A” level. Paul: I’ve done it for “O” level here. Particularly on a big theatre like this you’re doing it for a broad audience so it’s got to make sense for the widest possible number of people. Lucinda: Paul thank you very much indeed. To those of you seeing the show tonight I envy you. I can’t wait to see it again. I think it’s an absolutely remarkable production. So thank you once again for coming. Thank you, Paul. Paul: Thank you very much. (Applause)

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