Friday, March 07, 2008

Selina Cartmell's Macbeth

"The thing about Macbeth is…" Gasp! It is a few minutes into our interview, but there it is: director, Selina Cartmell has done it. She has used the "M" word that generations of actors have superstitiously avoided, fearing that it would bring ill fortune down upon their productions.

But Cartmell, director of theatre shows that plunge unflinchingly into the dark side, has no such fear. So are the actors in her forthcoming production of "the Scottish play" also using the title willy-nilly?

"Yes. I took that curse out of their hands. It had to be done. Otherwise you are just walking on egg-shells all the time in rehearsals."

As it transpired, the actors were walking on something more solid, if every bit as unusual for a stage. Cartmell's Macbeth will be stage in The Empty Space, an 'empty space' theatre established by Michael Scott, which has the pretty much unique featuring of using the bare earth as a stage.

Despite her reckless use of the M word, Cartmell's career seems to have been charmed, so far. She trained as an actor in Glasgow, before deciding that she had a far stronger calling: to direct. She first came to Dublin in 1998, as an Erasmus student, and returned a few years later when had grown tired of being an assistant director in London and "seeing the same faces, the same people all the time..."

Since then, she has made the kind of impression on certain section of the Irish theatre world that a hot knife makes on a pound of butter, creating blockbuster shows for her own company, as well as at the National Theatre, Project and The Gate, where she recently directed, Sweeney Todd.

Last year she won the The Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, which saw her working in LA and New York with her hero, director, Julie Taymor, the woman who created the stage version of The Lion King, as well as a film version of Titus Andronicus, but who also works on large scale opera productions.

"I'm not that interested in the mentor and pupil side of things. But luckily, we were able to just talk about our work, and thought that we were able to develop a friendship, and a relationship. And then it just became two women working in theatre talking. Which was great."

Getting to know the legendary director, Cartmell suggests, made her realise that she might so far have been imposing some limits on herself. "I was with her in LA when she was directing Grendel, and there it was in a huge theatre, with 3000 people in the audience. And I thought, I'd like to do that…she taught me you must always, always keep pushing yourself to make sure you are never defined as just theatre director…"

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