The Watermill Ensemble’s productions will run from late January to mid- February 2020 and come hot on the heels of their successful Autumn tour of the UK. Playing in repertory, Artistic Director Paul Hart’s visceral actor-musician led productions are presented by the Newbury based theatre’s celebrated resident Shakespeare company, The Watermill Ensemble, whose previous successes have also included Romeo and Juliet and Twelfth Night.
You’re reprising your roles in Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream as they transfer to Wilton’s Music Hall, what can you tell us about these productions?
They’re youthful, dynamic, exciting and feature a lot of live music. They’re full of surprises and they’re a real spectacle; in that they’re visually stunning. Obviously, they’re both classics and we have kept them true to the original text – that being said they’ve both been significantly chopped down, especially Macbeth. When rehearsing the shows we approached them both as pieces of new writing rather than stories that have been told over and over meaning that they feel relevant, accessible, fresh and sexy.
Expect to see a lot of strong women on stage and at the core of the action. Expect to hear Shakespeare’s beautiful words told in a new way with a lot of brilliant music. Prepare to be entertained, to laugh, and perhaps to cry – and all of that good stuff.
What’s the biggest challenge performing these two roles in rep?
Making sure to bring the right energy on stage for that character. All actors play a minimum of 3 characters over the two plays and the energy and physicality of each play and the chorus (witches for Macbeth and fairies for dream) are very different.
I play Titania and Hippolyta in Dream and then Lady Macbeth and a witch in Macbeth. Entering with the right energy from the off and into the ‘right world’ is the biggest challenge but the music and physical language of the show really helps with that; in Macbeth it’s incredibly dark, electronic, bassy and sexy and Dream is real jazzy, cheeky and soulful.
Tell us about the music that accompanies these productions, and what it adds to Shakespeare’s work?
Paul Hart our director approaches each Shakespeare we do by first establishing the music he thinks will best serve the story of the show. On the first day of rehearsals he shares his playlist with us and we set about creating that music. Some songs don’t make the final cut and others we find during the rehearsal process; everyone, creative team and actors alike, are listened to and it’s a very collaborative process. The music is created onstage by the actors.
In the case of Midsummer Night’s Dream we haven’t just added music to Shakespeare’s work he’s written a number of songs already in the script; we’ve chosen to replace these lyrics with some soulful numbers that the audience are bound to know and love; there’s a number of Nina Simone classics.
We find that the music adds humour, mischief and magic and helps create little musical motifs for the fairies, Oberon and Titania. There’s also something undeniably fun about seeing Titania wheeled on playing the Saxophone. Most of the cast play at least two instruments and everyone sings; on occasion in five part harmony.
With regards to Macbeth the music is a lot more rhythmical and electronic it helps to drive the play along especially in the second half – again there’s a few curve balls thrown in. Expect to hear some Jonny cash, The XX, The Rolling Stones, Glass Animals, Jack Garrett and others. This one’s more drum, keys and guitar heavy but there’s still the odd flute. The music in Macbeth is more underscored rather than big numbers but we do have a few pieces that really highlight some climactic moments in the play. Again we don’t simply add music in but create the show and the world of the play through the use of music.
What have you enjoyed about working with director, Paul Hart?
I’ve worked with Paul on a number of shows now, I enjoy that he not only listens to everyone’s ideas but also welcomes them. He sure does love a bold and out there choice, and always encourages playfulness. Can’t not mention the rest of the creative team who are all crucial to The Watermill Ensemble shows. Katie Lias always designs them and she is brilliant, it’s not an easy feat to create a set that will serve two such different worlds and be so wonderful to play on. Tom Jackson Greaves our movement director is an absolute genius and such a joy to work with. He manages to integrate guitars into fight scenes and his character work with us all on both shows was integral. David Gregory and Tom White our sound and lighting designers respectively are also a real asset to the company as is our assistant director and problem solver Robert Kirby and our super star team of stage managers.
What are you most looking forward to about the Wilton’s transfer?
The historic building and it’s beauty. Imagining otherworldly beings Witches, Ghosts and indeed fairies is a whole lot easier in a place so rich in history. Speaking into that beautiful auditorium is really rather special!
What would you say to anyone thinking of coming to see Macbeth or A Midsummer Night’s Dream?
Make sure to arrive early so you have time to grab a pizza they’re seriously scrummy my favourite is the mushroom and garlic one – delicious! Whatever show you see you will thoroughly enjoy it. In fact, don’t stop at one, see both, you’ll have a bloody good night and I’ll catch you afterwards in the Gin Bar!
Macbeth’ and ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ are on at Wilton’s Music Hall from 22 January-15 February.
Main Image: Macbeth at The Watermill Theatre. Emma McDonald. Photo credit Pamela Raith