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Macbeth by the National Theatre, led by Rufus Norris, comes to the Marlowe in Canterbury

By Angela Cole

As the Marlowe Theatre prepares to welcome the National Theatre production of Macbeth to Canterbury, we talk to artistic director Rufus Norris about what has been considered a play courting controversy.

As thousands of GCSE students scribble in their copies of Macbeth, what better way to make the Shakespearean tale of tragedy come to life and leap off the page than by setting it not just in the present day, but the future?

It’s a bold move and one which has been made by National Theatre artistic director Rufus Norris, in his first Shakespeare for 25 years.

National Theatre artistic director Rufus Norris
National Theatre artistic director Rufus Norris

It is set in a post-apocalyptic time, after civil war has ravaged the country with the Macbeths thrust towards the crown by forces of elemental darkness.

Not defined by time or place, it is a barbaric world. Yet Rufus can envisage it even being Canterbury, where he is bringing the production next week.

He said of the setting: “If you take Canterbury and imagine those circumstances - the banks stopped giving out money, the bins stopped being collected and the rubbish piled up, even Canterbury would quickly become a very different place.

Studying Macbeth for GCSE? The National Theatre production could be for you
Studying Macbeth for GCSE? The National Theatre production could be for you

“In a year it would be unrecognisable... and in five years’ time who knows what it would be like.”

This production of Macbeth has courted controversy while playing to packed houses at the Olivier theatre in London, before heading out on this tour for cutting parts of the text but Rufus said it was not unusual.

“It is just trimming it down. I’m not drawn to controversy for the sake of it. But it isn’t new – in Shakespeare’s day people used to throw fruit at the stage!”

Macbeth is staged by the National Theatre
Macbeth is staged by the National Theatre

“It is very exciting to make this anew and take it all over the country.”

The cast includes a Scottish actor in the role of Macbeth - Michael Nardone, part of a diverse cast, aiming to reflect the UK's population today.

Behind the scenes in the world of theatre, some believe that the play is cursed, and will not say its title aloud, referring to it instead as ‘The Scottish Play’ and was first performed in 1606, after being written in the reign of James I, who was patron of Shakespeare’s acting company.


The National Theatre touring production of Macbeth will be at the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury, from Tuesday, February 12 to Saturday, February 16. To book, call 01227 787787 or go to marlowetheatre.com

Macbeth is touring the country
Macbeth is touring the country

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