Amy chats to Henry Maynard, the Artistic Director of Flabbergast Theatre who are currently touring a production of The Tragedy of Macbeth.
Hi Henry, what does a day in the life of an Artistic Director look like?
That very much depends on the day. One day I will be making puppets or costumes for the show and the next I’ll be designing the posters. On rehearsal days, I often pick the actors up before rehearsals and cook dinner for them afterwards. Sometimes I am in the shows and get to travel all over the world and sometimes I am stuck at home under a pile of spreadsheets and admin whilst the performers have all the fun. It’s a lot of work but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Tell us a bit about Flabbergast Theatre’s journey so far.
Flabbergast Theatre was formed in 2010 to make exciting and visceral theatre. We started out as a puppetry company, touring with a series of shows featuring the puppet clown duo Boris & Sergey. We played fringes and festivals in America, Australia, Europe and on one notable occasion, the Seychelles for a Saudi Prince. Over five years we created a bespoke immersive production taking place over several Caribbean islands for an exclusive client. We created the solo silent clown ‘Tatterdemalion’ and the grotesque clown show ‘Scrimshanks. And we built a touring 100-seat theatre called the Omnitorium, which was presented in Edinburgh and London. We also created ‘The Swell Mob’, which ran in Edinburgh, London and Adelaide. We are interested in exploring the use of a wide range of theatrical styles in our productions and continually seek new collaborations with other theatre practitioners.
What do you think it is about Macbeth, or Shakespeare’s work in general, that makes it timeless?
Shakespeare’s plays explore the big themes that affect humanity: greed, love, jealousy, lust, and power. This keeps them relevant as people now are driven by the same things, even if the technology or setting has changed. The genius of his poetry and storytelling is such that the plays can withstand all kinds of visualisations and interpretations.
What is your vision for this production? What can audiences expect?
Our version of Macbeth uses the original text and is true to the storyline but is a visually explosive exploration, the focus of our transformation is the placing of the world and the heightened physical language, influenced by our work with Matej Matejka and the Grotowski Institute in Poland. We have placed the witches front and centre so that female power, the masculine fear of it, and gender expectation thrum as central themes. Alongside this sits paranoia, envy, power and the madness that is engendered by a lack of sleep. We have spent a lot of time looking at the natural world (and the ‘unnatural’ elements of the play), humanity’s refusal of nature as compared to its celebration of it, and delving into ritual and trance states to explore the dichotomy of the profane and the sacred. You can expect a highly physical show with visceral energy; elements of clowning, buffoonery, puppetry, chorus and ensemble work, all harnessed to compliment the telling of the story and supported by Adam Clifford’s wonderful, powerful and sensitive musical soundscapes, songs and choral drumming. We have also brought to the forefront the elements of comedy to offset the tragic themes and make the play as entertaining as possible, humanising the characters and giving us sympathy for their plight.
Where do you find inspiration?
We are magpies as all true artists are. We take inspiration from other art, theatre, film, comedy, and music; we can be inspired by another artist or performance. We often create a board to which our collaborators and ensemble can share whatever chimes with them. From this vast pot, things coalesce and take form.
You took Macbeth to the Edinburgh Fringe last year, and then to Southwark Playhouse; how did it go?
It went very well indeed. Our audiences were very appreciative and the reviews were very positive, Edinburgh is hard to do from a financial standpoint, but it leads to opportunities that are otherwise difficult to take advantage of without the platform that it provides. Southwark went very well with a host of more positive reviews. We have been really struck by how many people take the time to contact the company after seeing the show to say how much they were blown away by it.
What can we expect from Flabbergast Theatre next?
We are following our Macbeth up with a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream which will debut at Winchester Theatre Royal on the 13th of June before a week-long run in the Inner Bailey of Ludlow Castle from the 17th June. It will then be presented in Malvern and Bristol in Autumn. Meanwhile, Macbeth continues to tour and we are discussing with some other venues about a production of Beowulf.
Do you have any advice for budding directors?
Do it as much as you can, see as many shows as you can (‘bad’ shows will teach you more), and do workshops in different theatrical styles. If you can act, do it – it will give you perspective and help you understand.
And finally, why should people book tickets to The Tragedy of Macbeth?
Whilst we have applied theatre arts from our background training, we are most interested in entertaining our audiences and telling Shakespeare’s amazing story. The elements that we have used should ultimately serve the play and even make the story easier to understand. We want those that normally avoid Shakespeare to come feeling confident that our production is accessible and exciting. We want them to go away with a wonderful experience that they will talk about for years to come!
ABOUT THE SHOW
Flabbergast will bring their unique production of Macbeth to Nottingham Playhouse 8-10 June, followed by Macready Theatre, Rugby on 27 June, Malvern Theatres 14-16 September and Blackwood Miners Institute, Wales 17 November.
Flabbergast’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream will debut at Winchester Theatre Royal on the 13-14 June, before appearing at the Inner Bailey, Ludlow Castle 17-24 June, Bristol Tobacco Factory 13-19 November, and Malvern Theatres 20-26 November.