Meet the man behind the unique take on Macbeth at the Playhouse

Words: Ian C Douglas
Thursday 08 June 2023
reading time: min, words

Ian C Douglas interviews Henry Maynard, Artistic Director at Flabbergast, the radical theatre company appearing at the Playhouse...


A big welcome to Henry Maynard, Artistic Director with Flabbergast. Right, let’s dive in...

What’s so different about Flabbergast’s Macbeth compared to the countless other productions?

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, delving into ritual and trance states to explore the dichotomy of the profane and the sacred.

You can expect a highly physical show with a 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, making the play as entertaining as possible, humanising the characters, and giving us sympathy for their plight.

Please tell us more about Flabbergast.

We formed in 2010 with the aim to make exciting theatre, rooted in physicality and devising with a belief that all theatre should be vital, engaging and accessible.

We are committed to exploration of all theatrical styles, adding to our excellent 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.

Our aim is to create genuine ensembles, driven by upskilling and sharing. We are committed to creating a company of artists rather than hiring jobbing actors for short contracts. We find that this leads to more commitment and involvement in the work that we create and engenders a familial relationship within the group that is tough to sustain in other cases. 

And how did you come to be a part of it?

I started Flabbergast 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 in 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 show ‘Tatterdemalion’ and the grotesque clown show ‘Scrimshanks’, and built a touring 100 seat theatre called the Omnitorium which 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.

the wolves are circling!


So, why did you choose Macbeth?

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.

We wanted to choose a great play as our first foray into narratively led work, and there are so many issues in this play that are pertinent to modern society – explorations of gender expectations and the fear of feminine power being one that we wanted to highlight with our interpretation

Why do you use techniques like puppetry, masks, cabaret and clowning? Isn’t Shakespeare’s words enough?

The process of our discovery and expression is embodied and physical and we hope that the audience will experience it in a visceral way. This is layered with a respect for text but an irreverent attitude to the slavery of form that can sometimes trap other productions of Shakespeare.

The performers are transmutable, allowing us to express the witches and other characters within the ensemble. There is a sense of confusion and hallucination that runs throughout the play – ‘nothing is, but what is not’ ... ‘confusion now has made it’s masterpiece’. We allow the audience to peek into the madness that envelops Macbeth through his lack of sleep and his ‘strange affliction’.

As a performer of contemporary clowning, I was interested in the humanity of Macbeth and his contemporaries and trying to steer away from hyper masculinised or serious stereotypes that sometimes dominate the play. Finding our playful side helps the play dramaturgically and leads to some delightfully silly moments. Buffon (grotesque satirical clowning) allowed us to access a profane and insane side to the play, allowing us to mock ourselves and the play.  

We also began a journey into the world of Butoh (a dance and performance form that focuses on transformation, ugliness, and weakness) which has added texture.

Shakespeare is full of wonderful opportunity top explore the gamut of theatrical artforms in order to enhance the storytelling.

What’s Flabbergast’s proudest achievement? And did anything ever go spectacularly wrong on stage?

Honestly, our proudest achievement is managing to create an ensemble and bring this production to fruition despite the privations of COVID. This show is truly a flagship, one that we have fought for and produced with very little funding and one that we hope will be excitedly experienced here in Nottingham as it has been elsewhere.

We once performed this production in a thunderstorm in the inner bailey of Ludlow Castle – it was dramatic but very cold! We coped by decamping to the pub afterwards to warm up.  

What advice would you give anyone hoping for a career in experimental theatre.

Be prepared to work hard and be sure that you really want to do it. It can be a tough business with very slim opportunities for profits. But it can also be the best job in the world. Go and see as much as you can and do as many workshops as you can, especially experience theatre from other countries.

And what’s coming soon for Flabbergast?

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 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, followed by Wilton’s Music Hall London in spring of 2024.

Macbeth continues to tour and we are discussing with some other venues a production of Beowulf, which we hope will cement our position in large scale drama houses.

How can we keep up with Flabbergast?

Please engage with us on our social media platforms and check out our videos on You Tube:

Flabbergast will perform Macbeth at Nottingham Playhouse from Thu 8 Jun – Sat 10 Jun 2022.

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