ED2022 Interviews ED2022 Preview Edition ED2022 Theatre

Henry Maynard: The Tragedy Of Macbeth

By | Published on Monday 6 June 2022

You’ll often hear us talk about our “TW favourites”, acts and companies we’ve often first met, and experienced the work of, at the Edinburgh Fringe.

And the company we are focusing on in this particular feature – Flabbergast Theatre – are very much in that stable, having impressed us year after year with their acclaimed shows, to the point that we made the very easy decision to give them one of our ThreeWeeks Editors’ Awards. 

There’s been a bit of a pandemic-induced gap in their edfringe productivity, so it was great to hear that they’ll be heading back up to the Scottish capital this August with their latest show, a typically interesting staging of ‘The Tragedy Of Macbeth’. 

We are always keen to catch up with our TW Award winners, and I wanted to hear about the new show, and the company in general. So I spoke to Artistic Director Henry Maynard to find out more. 

CM: Everyone’s heard of ‘Macbeth’, though I’m not sure everyone knows exactly what to expect in terms of plot. Does your version stick to the original story? 
HM: 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.

CM: Have you sought to bring out specific themes through your performance of it? 
HM: We have placed the witches front and centre, so that female power, the masculine fear of it, and gender expectation thrum as a central theme. Alongside this sits paranoia, envy, power and the madness that is engendered by the lack of sleep. 

We have spent a lot of time looking at the natural world – and the ‘unnatural’ elements of the play – and humanity’s refusal of nature as compared to its celebration of it, delving into ritual and trance states to explore the dichotomy of the profane and the sacred.

CM: Can you tell us about the style, or genre, of the show – what manner of performance can audiences expect? 
HM: You can expect a highly physical show with a visceral energy – elements of clowning, buffoonery, puppetry, chorus and ensemble work, all harnessed to complement 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. We wanted to make the play as entertaining as possible, humanising the characters and giving us sympathy for their plight. 

CM: Your shows often have interactive elements don’t they? Is it the same with ‘Macbeth’? 
HM: As a company we value direct address, and elements of cabaret and clowning, which means that our performances are actively communal, something that definitely remains appropriate to Shakespeare’s work.

There will be some light interaction and the audience are directly addressed by the characters, especially during soliloquies, but no fear, we haven’t dragged anyone on to play the porter… yet…

CM: What made you want to do ‘Macbeth’?
HM: Within today’s political and social climate, nothing feels more fitting. A show revolving around the bitter grasp for power and the struggle to hold on to it whilst the wolves are circling!

Also I just love the play and, having done it with other companies three times, I had a lot of time to consider how I wanted it to interpret it.

CM: We feel like we know you quite well – what with seeing so many of your shows and giving you a TW Editors award and everything – but can you fill us in a bit about your history? How did the company come together? What are its aims and ethos? 
HM: We formed in 2010 with the aim of making exciting theatre rooted in physicality and devising, with a belief that all theatre should be vital, engaging and accessible.

We are committed to the exploration of all theatrical styles adding to our reputation in puppetry, physical comedy and physical theatre, and exploring other expressions and pedagogy such as Butoh, Grotowski, Lecoq and Mask.

In devising we consider that our creatives are our greatest resource and as such endeavour to create theatre through an extensive and collaborative research and development process, using performers from many disciplines including acting, dance, clowning, circus arts and puppetry.

Furthermore, we are committed to the development and creative growth of our ensemble, both within the context of Flabbergast Theatre but also as artists in their own right.

We started at the Fringe with a puppet based show called ‘Boris & Sergey’ from which there were six spin offs – and we toured all over the world, including staging performances for a Saudi Sheik and with Plan B at Shakespeare’s Globe on the Southbank.

We followed that with the solo clown show ‘Tatterdemalion’, and then a buffoon piece called ‘Skrimshanks’.

We built a 120 seat venue which, for two years, we co-produced with Assembly, called the Illustrious Perambulating Omntitorium, Purveyor Of Theatrical Delights And Home To Flabbergast Theatre.

And in 2018 we created ‘The Swell Mob’, which transferred to London for three months and was the flagship production of Adelaide Cabaret Festival.

We took a year off Edinburgh Festival in 2019, which turned into three because of the pandemic… but now we are back with vengeance to present our most ambitious project to date!

CM: What hopes and ambitions do you have for the company in the future?  
HM: We are in the process of moving into the realm of midscale productions and hope ‘Macbeth’ will enable us to reach wider audiences, sustaining a UK and international tour, building on our reputation for puppetry and physical theatre and merging it with narrative text.

We are looking for collaborations with venues that will allow us to create more such productions, so we can sustain the ensemble and go on to create work that is at the forefront of our chosen field… and then… World Domination…

CM: It’s been a couple of years since the Fringe was ‘normal’ and the pandemic had a huge impact on everyone working in the arts – how has the last couple of years been for Flabbergast? 
HM: COVID has been a major blow to the arts industry, but the fallow years have allowed us to re-examine what we are doing and why. We were lucky in that we had a small team of dedicated people that wanted to collaborate to create the new ensemble as it now stands.

Over the period we started to put this version of ‘Macbeth’ together, bubbling together in residencies when the restrictions allowed, twice in Winchester and then twice in Poland at The Grotowski Institute, where we created the first skeletal structure of the show in 2021.

CM: You keep on returning to Edinburgh (yay) – what is it about doing the Festival that brings you back again and again? 
HM: You mean apart from it being the best arts festival in the world? Edinburgh has been instrumental in cementing the reputation of the company. It truly is the only place that we have found that allows smaller less well funded companies to gain traction through word of mouth and the arts press. It’s also the best marketplace for new work to find producers and venues from across the globe. That – and it’s stupid fun.

CM: What’s the a) best thing and b) worst thing that’s ever happened for you during an edfringe? 
HM: For best thing, there are so many to choose from. Receiving recognition in the form of the ThreeWeeks Award was a great highlight! I suppose also, thinking back to our first year with ‘Boris & Sergey’, receiving seven five star – and six four star… oh and a one star – reviews, when we didn’t really know anything about anything, was amazing… that, and the wonderful international bookings that we have had. Am I allowed three best things?

The worst thing to happen to me personally was standing on a spike which went through my shoe and foot whilst attempting to jump the fence at George Square… suffice to say performing for the next few days at Craigmillar Castle as Hippolytus in Phaedra was painful – especially the opening fight scene!

CM: Aside from performing, what are you looking forward to doing in Edinburgh this year? 
HM: Drinking… eating sausage suppers, indulging in Scottish fry ups with haggis and square sausage… seeing all the wonderful friends that we have made over the past ten years… and watching brilliant shows! The hills – good for the calves and glutes – and sharing rooms that cost £1200 PCM+ with three other people – oooh political!

CM: What’s coming up for you next after the Fringe? 
HM: Next we are booking a UK tour of ‘Macbeth’, and looking to secure international dates, and then will begin the first tentative steps towards R&D of a new show. I didn’t tell you, but it might include elements of panto, Commedia Dell’arte and the Marquis de Sade… though I reserve the right to completely change all that.

Flabbergast Theatre performed ‘The Tragedy Of Macbeth’ at Assembly Roxy at Edinburgh Festival 2022.

LINKS: www.flabbergasttheatre.co.uk | twitter.com/flabbergastt