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3rd Feb 2013 3:42pm | By Laura Chubb
A radical new version of Macbeth hits the London stage this week, set in a dystopian future. Director Jamie Lloyd talks apocalypse
“There’s lots of blood and vomit and all sorts of bodily fluids,” says Jamie Lloyd, director of the new James McAvoy-starring stage blockbuster Macbeth.
We’ve managed to catch him on a rare break from final rehearsals for the show, which premieres this weekend. And going by Lloyd’s admission, it isn’t going to be for the faint-hearted. “It’s a really visceral and sweaty production,” he concedes.
“They’re getting very, very messy in there.”You’ve probably seen the posters on the Tube by now – McAvoy (X-Men: First Class; Wanted; Atonement) surrounded by the debris of a dystopian future, an ominous mist swirling about him in the shape of a skull.
Lloyd has chosen to retell Shakespeare’s darkest tale in a future separatist Scotland, torn apart by war and festering under a toxic fog.
It promises to be a thrilling spectacle, not only because of its star actor and director (Lloyd, at just 32, has won an Olivier award, been appointed associate director of the Donmar Warehouse, and blew away Broadway with his Cyrano de Bergerac), but also thanks in part to its being staged at the revamped Trafalgar Studios.
Lloyd and his team have completely reworked the space to immerse the audience in Macbeth with startling intensity. But more of that later.
The director is at pains to point out that rooting a Shakespearian tale in such a radical setting isn’t just a gimmick.
“It’s not like me coming up with some pretentious directorial conceit and trying to shoehorn a play into it,” he insists.
Rather, creating a disturbing, apocalyptic world for the action is in keeping with what the Bard was doing back in the 1600s.
Macbeth has long been considered Shakespeare’s most sinister work, a tale of power-lust and paranoia in which the protagonist plunges deep into moral depravity, murdering his way to the top.
So unsettling is the play that for centuries, it has been believed to be cursed, with many theatre types preferring to call it “the Scottish play” rather than invoke potential damnation by speaking its name aloud.
“The world Shakespeare conjures is incredibly feral,” Lloyd explains.
“He’s constantly describing this place of complete blackness, where the sun and stars no longer shine in the sky.
"There are these amazing, graphic descriptions where the earth shakes and horses eat each other. It’s an odd and twisted place.”
Concerned that setting his production in the era it was first written would dull its relevance to a contemporary audience, Lloyd was eager to create a context that would strike a chord. But placing it in the present day wasn’t going to work – Macbeth plotting his reign of terror on an iPad or Lady M trolling on Twitter would be absurd.
Instead, Lloyd looked to find “some sense of a world that is recognisably ours but 50 years down the line.
What about if the UK was split into separate nations and that led to some kind of dreadful economic downfall?
And if that was combined with extreme environmental catastrophe?” Cheery stuff.
Still, there is an element to Lloyd’s vision of hooking a new generation into Shakespeare by updating the story, in much the same way films such as Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo And Juliet and Julia Styles-starring O (based on Othello) have tried before.
Indeed, Macbeth is the first in a season of plays by Lloyd, called Trafalgar Transformed, that seek to posit London theatre as less elitist.
It’s true that taking in a show in the capital is prohibitively priced for many – there’s a big difference between gambling £50 per head on a West End production you may or may not enjoy and £12 at the cinema.
To combat this sense of theatre as something not meant for the masses, all tickets for Macbeth will be priced at £15 on every Monday of its run, with half of them only available through a special scheme aimed at schools and first-time theatre-goers.