“In 2023, how do we take theatrical stories to the audience and make them relevant to an audience of everyday people?”
— Alesha, Australia
You’ve tapped into one of my bugbears regarding honouring or dishonouring the work. Directors can fall prey to altering the period in history from which the play comes in order to modernise it. When that works, it can work brilliantly, as long as the play remains ‘intact’, logical, and all the characters and the story itself can exist as the writer requires them to, in a new time zone.
Change for change sake, though, can easily rob the piece of its integrity. I’ve seen this many times. The director doesn’t trust it will work as it was written so has the opinion it needs ‘updating.’ Does it? Perhaps the piece needs to be trusted ‘as is’ and bought to life from the time zone it was intended for?
Then you can take a play like Macbeth which I directed last month. We set it in March 2023. With modern warfare as the background. Macbeth could be seen as a type of Putin, and Malcolm as a type of Zelensky. The costumes were modern military as were the weapons. The soundtrack captured bomb blasts and air raid sirens, so the 4 pods of the seated audience were basically on the battlefield side-by side with Macbeth. It was an extremely visceral and immersive event. The experience was like a freight-train ride reflecting what it might be like to exist in a war-torn city, with war crimes being committed daily.
So, Macbeth can move effortlessly into this decade and have us directly reflect on our world as we know it. Again, the integrity of every piece of drama must remain intact if we as artists are to honour the work as it was intended.