Thursday, 29 January 2015

INTERVIEW - Ferdy Roberts in Macbeth at the Vaults Festival

FANS of Macbeth will know that not only is it considered one of Shakespeare's four major tragedies, it is also one of his meatiest and longest.
However a new and innovative adaptation of the Bard's seminal work has pared it down from its original three hours to a mere 75 minutes.
It will be performed in the extraordinary setting of one of the spaces in the tunnels underneath the railway tracks that go in and out of Waterloo Station as part of this year's Vault Festival.
In a 10-day run from February 4 to 15, it will be brought to life by Filter Theatre, a company of actors and musicians who promise a radical and exciting reinterpretation of the text.
"Shakespeare and his actors collaborated together to bring his plays to the stage and that's what we are doing," says actor Ferdy Roberts as he takes a break from rehearsals.
"We have approached this as though we have never seen it before, that it's a new play and we create it as we go along.
"It's great because doing it this way allows us to be as creative with it as we want. In fact it's arguably closer to the way Shakespeare would have worked with his actors so it's actually quite a traditional way of working as well as being exciting."
The Brixton-based actor, who will be taking on the title role, is no stranger to this approach. Indeed Filter Theatre, of which he has been part since its inception more than 10 years ago, is renowned for its unconventional and contemporary approaches to its productions.
Its previous and critically acclaimed versions of Shakespeare classics Twelfth Night and Midsummer Night's Dream were similarly stripped back affairs that merged performance and spoken word with integrated live music and sound.
"We never consciously decided to work this way, it's just the way it evolved over the years," he says.
"But it means we have come to this production in the same way as the others. There are no pre-conceived themes, concepts or designs - we take elements of the text and go from there.
"However, we are not being irreverent and we are not ripping it apart. We strive to hold on to the integrity of the play and Shakespeare's narrative - we are obsessed with telling the story clearly so although we have edited it down and some of the characters are missing it's still recognisable.
"We don't want to send the audience away bamboozled but we do like to challenge them."
He adds the idea for tackling Macbeth was a deliberate one.
"We saw the success we had with Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night's Dream which are traditional comedies and we wanted to see if we could explore the same way we worked with those to one of his heavier, meatier plays.
"We chose Macbeth because it's one of Shakespeare's best plays, a fantastic story which one could argue should never run at three and a half hours!
"In fact it propels through very quickly and is relentless."
He describes the production - which he admits is still being tinkered with - as funny, playful, kaleidoscopic, energetic and horrific.
"Macbeth is a corrosive, psychological thriller, full of ambition, power and witchcraft with constant references to sound and Macbeth's mind," he says.
"We are looking at it from a psychological point of view and less from the battle weary, broadsword hero of the play."
As with their other productions the use of live music and sound to help tell the story is just as important as the spoken word elements of it.
"It brings out the different layers of the piece," he says. "Combining it all together I hope the audience will be plunged into the meat and gristle and psychological horror of the play."
And he says the space at the Vaults is perhaps the "perfect" place to stage it.
"The Vaults are like the dark recesses of the brain - dark, atmospheric, somewhat confined - rather like Macbeth's mind in many ways so it's the perfect place," he says. "People will feel they have been plunged into the psyche of the man.
"It's going to be an amazing experience, especially with the noise of the trains going overhead.
"It's also incredibly intimate and the audience will be right there within touching distance which also makes it all the more exciting - not just for them but for us too."
But what of those Shakespeare purists for whom this is certainly not what you would describe as a traditional interpretation.
"We wouldn't want to upset them but Shakespeare can be all things to all people and I think his work can take it," insists Ferdy.
"They are not modern texts but they still mean something to us even now - the themes explored in his plays still have relevance and we can relate to those characters.
"They were written for the people, the groundlings who went to the theatre as a way of getting their news reports.
"Everyone who sees it will have a different reaction so hopefully it will encourage debate afterwards.
"I'm not sure what Shakespeare would have made of it," he adds. "I hope he would have admired our audacity and courage in taking his play down this road.
"Ultimately I hope he would like the idea, come and see it, have fun and enjoy it!"

Macbeth is on at The Vaults, Leake Street from February 4 until February 15. Tickets cost £16.50. Visit or or call the box office on 020 7401 9603

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