Macbeth – Director’s Cut, Volcano’s Shakespeare for the 21st century

October 14, 2016 by

It is 18 years since Swansea-based Volcano Theatre premiered its breathtakingly original version of Macbeth, subtitled ‘Director’s Cut’. With its ‘libidinous’ choreography by Nigel Charnock, its strobe-and-thrash-metal descent into chaos after the murder of Duncan and its visual references to the sordid crimes of Fred and Rose West, it was universally acknowledged as an extraordinary performance, and elicited strong responses on every part of the spectrum from awe to outrage. Macbeth – Director’s Cut got the company invited to Canada, Greece, Russia, Spain and Sri Lanka, but banned from Worthing and frowned upon in Newbury.

This autumn, Volcano revisits Shakespeare’s pacy, bloody, eloquent tragedy; handing over the central roles from the company’s founding members to a new generation of performers. Lady Macbeth is the Glaswegian powerhouse Mairi Phillips, whose irrepressible energy has fizzed through several of Volcano’s recent productions from Chekhov to A Clockwork Orange. Her partner in crime is Welshman Alex Harries, best known as DC Lloyd Elis in the BBC1 drama Hinterland.




The subtitle, then and now, is not so much a nod to auteur theory as a shot across the bow of the conventions and priorities dominating Shakespearean performance in mainstream theatre and cinema. Volcano’s Macbeth strips back the already economical text and redistributes the lines of other characters between the killer couple with a purposeful irreverence that some might find sacrilegious. But there’s plenty left, now including a variation on the Porter’s Scene (newly restored for the 2016 version, which has a richer vein of humour than its predecessor). This time round, the erotically-charged fury of the original Director’s Cut has given way to a boisterously playful absurdism with a muscular undertow of menace. The emphasis has shifted from destructive sexual passion to an implied backdrop of endemic violence in which the protagonists slip all-too-easily easily from banter into brutality.

The new design, by young Beirut-born and Wales-trained designer Tina Torbey, has dispensed with both the baroque excess and the domestic squalor of the previous version, replacing them with a starkly beautiful stagescape of austere and versatile objects, fabrics, weapons and miscellaneous corpses which might equally represent 11th Century Scotland or 21st Century Aleppo, where ‘Each new morn / New widows howl, new orphans cry, new sorrows / Strike heaven on the face’.

Macbeth is directed by Paul Davies, who played the title role in the original production and is Volcano’s co-founder and Artistic Director. Devotees of furiously-paced 1990s physical theatre might be disappointed that Davies has not sought to reproduce Volcano’s original classic more closely, as he did when he remade the company’s other Charnock-choreographed Shakespeare piece L.O.V.E. (a staging of the Sonnets) in 2012. But his unwillingness to settle for easy wins or to relax into a formula is one of the things that has kept Volcano’s work fresh and surprising in a changing artistic and political landscape. Not knowing quite what to expect when going to see a well-known play can perhaps seem a bit daunting, but the pay-off is the pleasure of the unexpected, and a bracing disregard for the rules that levels the field between seasoned theatregoers and new audiences. When Volcano goes into the rehearsal room, everything is still to play for.

NEWPORT | 18-20 OCT | The Riverfront | 01633 656757
SWANSEA  | 21-22 OCT  | Taliesin Arts Centre | 01792 602060
COVENTRY | 1–4 NOV | Belgrade Theatre | 024 7655 3055
CANTERBURY | 9 NOV | Gulbenkian | 01227 769075
COLCHESTER | 10 NOV | Lakeside Theatre | 01206 873 261
NEWTOWN | 12 NOV | Hafren | 01686 614555
ABERYSTWYTH | 15 NOV | Arts Centre | 01970 623232
BANGOR | 16 NOV | Pontio | 01248 382828
EASTLEIGH | 18 NOV | The Point | 023 8065 2333
YORK | 22 NOV | Theatre Royal | 01904 623568
MOLD | 23–26 NOV | Theatr Clwyd | 01352 701521






Probably best known as DC Lloyd Ellis in Hinterland (Fiction Factory), Alex has performed regularly in theatre, television and radio since graduating from Queen Margaret, Edinburgh in 2006. Theatre credits include The Parade (Citizens Theatre, Glasgow), Shadowboxing, Broken Souls and Hello and Goodbye (Mandan Productions). Other television credits include Torchwood (BBC) and Pobol y Cwm (S4C). Macbeth – Director’s Cut is his first production with Volcano.

Mairi’s extraordinary energy and presence have made her a lynchpin of the Volcano’s recent productions, including A Clockwork Orange and Alice in Wonderland. She took on Fern Smith’s demanding role as the Dark Lady in Volcano’s 20-year old landmark production L.O.V.E. She has also been acclaimed for her performance in My Name Is Rachel Corrie for both Glasgow Citizens and Mull Theatre, and more recently for her Richard III in Omidaze’s all-woman production at Wales Millennium Centre. She has worked regularly with Citizens Theatre, Tron Theatre and Mull Theatre.

PAUL DAVIES (Director)
Paul is a writer, performer, deviser and director, who holds a doctorate in Politics and a black belt in karate. He is, with Fern Smith, one of the founder members of Volcano and for 28 years has been half of its distinctive and long-standing core creative team. He is now the sole Artistic Director. Paul combines a restless fascination with ideas with an originality and audacity that can produce truly astonishing theatre that simply could not have been made by anyone else. He has performed in many Volcano shows, written three plays for the company and directed or devised a number of others. He has directed work in Montreal and Croatia and taught in various academies around the world. Work he has recently directed for Volcano includes Seagulls, Black Stuff, L.O.V.E., A Clockwork Orange, Blinda, Alice in Wonderland and Volcano Youth Company’s WeReallyWantToWin…

Tina is an award-winning young designer and architect from Beirut who trained at the Academie Libanese de Beaux Arts and graduated recently with an MA in Design for Performance from the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama. She is currently working on Jenny Ogilvie’s Dr Angelus at the Finborough Theatre and previously designed Cabaret at the Richard Burton Theatre.

CATHERINE BENNETT (Movement Director)
Catherine is a performer, director, choreographer and film-maker. She trained at the Rambert School, Catherine was a performer with Matthew Hawkins’ Fresh Dances from 1994 to 1996 and a core member of Random Dance Company from 1997 to 2002. As a freelance dance artist, she performed with Houston Grand Opera and English National Opera, and participated in the 2003 Jerwood Bank Project with the Siobhan Davies Dance Company. A Member of Walker Dance Park Music since 2003, Catherine is also engaged in performance and research work with Carol Brown Dances. She directed her first short film My Desert with Pedro Machado, and also made a film with Lucy Cash for Volcano’s i-witness. She was awarded a unique Research, Training and Development Bursary from Arts Council England. Catherine directed Shelf Life with Paul Davies (Volcano & National Theatre Wales) choreographed Seagulls, Black Stuff, Alice and A Clockwork Orange for Volcano and performs in 147 Questions about Love.

Ben is a freelance Lighting Technician and Designer based in Cardiff and working on TV, theatre, opera and events. Some of his career highlights include lighting Black Stuff, the first show in Volcano’s new Bunker Theatre in Swansea in 2014, and Technical Managing both World Stage Design and the 2015 SBTD national exhibition. He also designed the lighting for Volcano’s 2015 version of Chekhov’s The Seagull, designed by Camilla Clarke.

The original version of Macbeth – Director’s Cut (1999) was conceived and performed by Paul Davies and Fern Smith, and directed and choreographed by Nigel Charnock. It featured lighting and set design by Andrew Jones, original music by Stewart Lucas and video by Reinhard Lorenz.

VOLCANO THEATRE is a small, energetic performance company with an ability to move quickly and imaginatively to make things happen, and a track-record in inspiring and engaging others, working in partnership and setting big ideas in motion. We have been creating and touring high-impact professional theatre productions all over the world for over 28 years, as well as initiating and managing projects ranging from temporary building transformations to festivals, residential workshops, exhibitions, publications, public events and a sustainability summit. South Wales is the company’s home – we are outward-looking Welsh internationalists with deep Swansea roots, fascinated by the place we live and make work and its relationship to other places.

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