Shakespeare specialists return to Derry with The Bard's bloodiest tale

The company which reimagined Hamlet for a modern audience continues to fill the gap left by Game of Thrones this year with its take on Macbeth

First dramatised in the early 1600s, the blood-thirsty tale of Macbeth has captivated readers and performers in each passing century. Yet one theatre company is ready to send shockwaves through the Millennium Forum once again as they return to the Walled City later this month.

Shortly over a year since their production of Hamlet was performed in Derry~Londonderry, Icarus Theatre Collective descend on the Foyle with their visceral adaptation of arguably Shakespeare’s most brutal and gruesome play.

Artistic Director Max Lewendel has described his company’s performances as ‘theatre that moves’ and says there is a need for newness when bringing The Bard’s work to life.

'We tell the story visually at the same time as using the verse. One of my directing professors used to say that if you direct a play well then you should be able to tell what's happening with the volume turned off.

'Shakespeare's always going to be relevant,' he adds. 'There's something particularly resonant. He was writing for something fundamental in human nature. The stories he drew from were hundreds if not thousands of years old and we still draw from those stories today.

'It's about looking at interactions and actors communicating through their bodies just as much as they are through their verse. It's by balancing those two together and doing the opposite of what people typically expect of Shakespeare, with one person standing stage centre pontificating in stillness. We get the stage combat exhilarated and intense.'

Macbeth, Lawrence Stubbing and Banquo, James Heatlie

Macbeth, Lawrence Stubbing and Banquo, James Heatlie

Thematic and social contexts are important to Lewendel as his ambition lies not only in telling the story but retelling it to a 21st century audience. The Illinois-born director explains how he has focused heavily on current issues in society to help envelope the audience in the traditional story.

'It doesn't take an awful lot to make something like Macbeth, which is traditionally masculine and male driven.

'Change a few characters' gender and suddenly it makes a comment on political power today. The same people, as then as it is now, making similar choices just in different environments. If we make some very simple changes, like making Macduff female and Malcolm female then their choices represent a female ideology.'

A stalwart of the GCSE curriculum in Northern Ireland, Macbeth sends ripples of familiarity across the country. Rewarded with fervour and honour by a king, Macbeth’s hunger for power develops into a savage desire for blood and butchery. Lewendel says that the Derry audiences should expect the action to be lifted from the page to stage in a way they’ve never seen before.

'I've always loved the play since first reading it. We did a different production of the play in 2011 which was very brutal, very masculine and very testosterone driven but I felt like I wasn't done with it. I wanted to say something with all the political changes lately and with the scandals that have been in the news. It felt like I had something different to say with it.  

'There were a few other artists who worked on it in 2011 who also wanted to return for this tour who also felt like they had more to say, like [composer and sound designer] Theo Holloway, who worked with us musically in 2011. I said to him I'm happy for you to do the same thing with it and he said no, that there was so much more he wanted to do with it.

Lady Macbeth, Miztli Rose Neville

Lady Macbeth, Miztli Rose Neville

He adds: 'It's so much more topical now as people become more aware on how impossible it would have been at the time of the play to have a woman in such a position of power and it's still so shockingly difficult today as much as we have progressed. I think in the last five years we've taken a leap backwards.

'We're in a position where people are more aware of disadvantages to women and minorities and this has become so polarised. People that are against people that are different are becoming much more vocal. I want to counteract that.'

Lewendel has a great passion for Northern Ireland and its people who he says are like nobody else from across the British Isles, especially those from the North West.

'There's a wonderful difference in audiences in Derry as opposed to other places in the UK and Ireland.

'At our production of Hamlet last year, the audience were so expressive and vocal, booing Hamlet and cheering Claudius. It was such uninhibited appreciation of the art we were doing that we felt we had to come back all the time. There's such a welcoming audience in Derry that I just love performing there.'

Macbeth comes to the Millennium Forum from February 27-28. To book tickets phone 028 7126 4455 or visit www.millenniumforum.co.uk/shows/macbeth.