BWW Interview: Sam Psyk and Joshua Lacey On MACBETH NT Live Broadcast
Joshua Lacey and Sam Psyk share their thoughts ahead of the broadcast, one who'll be on stage on the night and one behind the scenes (and screen).
SAM PSYK, DEPUTY HEAD OF NT LIVE
How long have you been at the National Theatre?
I've been working in NT Live now for about two and a half years. Prior to that, I was working in broadcasting, predominantly at the BBC.
And what was the first production that you worked on for NT Live?
My first production here was Behind the Beautiful Forevers, which Rufus Norris directed as well. I joined just the week or two before that was broadcast, so I wasn't involved in the actual development of that.
But that was my first experience of being in the broadcast truck and watching it all come together. And it really is exciting: being in the gallery as that's all happening live. On the ground, you really do get that real buzz when it's happening.
What is your role as Deputy Head of NT Live?
What that really entails is overseeing the process of translating the production from stage to screen. Bringing together all the different elements from different teams and departments, from the stage director to the screen director, and the stage crew to our broadcast crew.
So I'm involved throughout the process, from pre-production through rehearsals and finally live.
Can you take us through that process, and what goes into making it happen?
Each NT Live goes through quite a lot of rehearsal and review, and we try to get everyone involved as early as possible. So pretty much as soon as the production opens, our screen director will go and watch that several times in the theatre. They'll then have lots of conversations with the stage director to really get a sense of the world: the rhythm, the stories, the focus.
We then do two full camera rehearsals, and that first camera rehearsal is the first attempt at relaying that on screen. And we all sit together and watch it back in the cinema - and that is everyone.
That must be nice: a bit of popcorn and your own private screening!
Yes! And all the creative teams and different departments come together to watch it, from costumes, hair and make-up to sound, music.
That way, we have an open notes session and big discussion. Often, that's where those conversations about particular decisions will happen. That's one of the most important days for NT Live, when we're all in that room together.
And then it develops from that process, through to the second rehearsal, and then the live night. And seeing those tweaks and adjustments from that process, it's always interesting to see where it ends up.
How do you think Macbeth will translate to the big screen?
I think it's going to be fantastic. It's a production that has some really epic moments and an epic set too, really huge pieces. But there are some really beautiful, intimate moments against that, like the duologues between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.
So it's a brilliant combination of those two extremes: big moments and intimate ones. And I think that we will be able to represent both of those atmospheres on screen.
It's interesting for each audience, seeing and experiencing the same production but slightly differently. In the theatre, you can kind of look where you want. On the screen, your focus is directed but you may also be able to see details you'd never notice in the theatre.
It is. And it's really exciting to be able to offer those different perspectives, particularly the details that you might not otherwise see in the theatre. The way that we look at it is that for that one night, we prioritise the cinema audience. Just for that one night, giving them the best seats in the house.
They're so important too though, that audience on the night in the theatre. And some theatregoers actually prefer to come and watch it on that night, because it does have an extra sense of buzz. It's almost like a second press night actually - it has a real excited atmosphere amongst the audience, the cast and the teams.
And where are you up to in the process now with Macbeth?
We've had our first rehearsal and notes session, so from that we've got a few tweaks and changes being made to the camera script. And then we have our second camera rehearsal the day before the live broadcast.
What are you going to be doing on the night?
So we have quite detailed running orders for broadcasts, almost literally second by second. And a lot of what I'm doing is overseeing that, and making sure that everything is running to time and smoothly.
What we're doing as well is a lot of communication, going on behind the scenes and screens. We try to stay ahead so that we can troubleshoot if there are any technical issues. But...it is live! So you have to be prepared and on your toes, ready to respond if needed.
"It'll be alright on the night!"
And as you mentioned, you have a wonderful, large team behind you. Just how many people are working on this broadcast?
There are around 80 people involved in bringing this NT Live together. That's a combination of the stage crew in the auditorium running the show, a broadcast team who come in for the rehearsals and broadcast, as well as the cast and our amazing departments here at the National.
It really is a good example of amazing team work, lots of different departments coming together. And actually, NT Live has been running for almost a decade now, since 2009. So there is a real knowledge and shorthand about how to work well as a team.
Finally, what does NT Live, its work and future mean to you?
I think for us, it's about increasing access to theatre as much as possible. We just want to be able to take fantastic work that happens here at the National (but also at other theatres which we partner with), and share those to a really wide and global audience, about 65 different countries.
That's the really key part of how NT Live works: that what you end up with on a cinema screen is as close as possible to being in the auditorium.
JOSHUA LACEY, MACBETH - CAST
What was your first experience with theatre?
Well, my background is in dance more than theatre. But I didn't really understand theatre until I was in it.
I used to go to amateur dramatics, back home in Norfolk. It was A Christmas Carol and I got bumped up to play Tiny Tim. I have vivid memories of drinking Ribena on stage and seeing the glass was dirty, and looking across at one of the girls and us both going "Ew!".
And my Mum said afterwards, "I saw you pulling faces! You do realise people are watching you?" And I did, but I just didn't get it... I think I still don't understand sometimes!
And you're appearing in Macbeth. This isn't your first time taking on Shakespeare, is it?
One of my first Shakespeares was also with Matthew. It was A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Park Theatre and I played one of the Fairies. And I also did Richard III at the Trafalgar Studios by Jamie Lloyd, playing Rivers.
I didn't know you were in that!
I'm a man of many faces...and many haircuts! But I take that as a compliment, I really do. It means I've done my job.
There's a wonderful plaque outside on the second floor here at the National, and it's for an actor called Michael Bryant. And it has some words from Nicholas Hytner, written in memory of when he passed away. And it says that Michael Bryant never did interviews when he was here, because he wanted to be known as the character, not the actor playing the part.
That's a wonderful testament of character, not to do interviews because you just want to be known as the part...but here I am!
Well, I knew you were doing it! So of course I'd pop by and say hello. But it's a wonderful sentiment.
And what roles do you play in Macbeth, here at the National?
Well, I play the "pivotal" parts of Murderer #2 and Spearbearer #3! And I get to swan around in the background and die a couple of times and maybe pull the odd face again (though not at Ribena this time!).
Can you tell us about the world of the production?
So Rae Smith designed it, and it's this post-apocalyptic world. There's no date on it; it is set in Scotland and England, but we don't really know what caused the devastation.
So it's a barren landscape and everything is kind of basic, things we could craft together out of the world we live in. In the rave scene, we wouldn't be drinking vodka; it's some kind of fuel, mentholated spirits from tin cups. I think the film The Road was a big influence, that kind of wasteland and desperation for survival.
And also what you hold on to because in this world, little possessions mean the world to the characters.
And this production is about to be broadcast for NT Live. How do you think that world will translate onto the big screen?
Well, the lighting is beautiful and hopefully that'll work even better on camera. It's very artsy, film noir, playing with shadows and downward lighting. It's stunning.
And translating that epic set and soundscape too, I think both of those will play well on the big screen. You see the instruments sometimes on stage, but they're wonderful. They're these strings and pieces of piping, again as if they would have made themselves. And it creates an incredible soundscape, very dirge.
Where are you up to in the process for the broadcast?
We've had our first rehearsal. And what was really great for us actors is that we had some schoolchildren in, and so you still get the live reactions.
We get two rehearsals for this and our director Rufus Norris is working really closely with the broadcast director throughout the process. They are working together to highlight what's important to pick up on and what's going on where to capture on camera, from the foreground moments to smaller background ones.
How much changes between the normal theatre version and the broadcast version? Is there any re-staging?
You know, you might think things need re-staging with cameras. We've got about six to eight cameras, a big boom. Some lovely tracking shots going on and close-ups. But actually, it's literally just the same, staging wise.
There are probably some make up changes, but really subtle ones. And as far as voices are concerned, Rufus has said, "Don't bring it back. Keep it as you would do."
Have you ever watched any NT Live productions in cinemas before?
Yes, I saw King Lear with Simon Russell Beale. And it was incredible, I think NT Live is a wonderful thing.
I remember seeing him say, "I'm not mad, I'm not mad". And up close on the big screen, you can really see his cogs turning. With those close-ups, you can really see and feel the intimacy. You know, if you're sitting at the back of the theatre, you don't get to see it as clearly, the whites of the eyes.
That's funny, I actually saw that production too but in the theatre. And I was up at the back of the Olivier and you know, I didn't connect with it as much.
Ah, really? It's fascinating, isn't it? How each experience can change your view.
It's the same with any live event, like sports. You could be at the back of the stands, but you've got that atmosphere. Or you could be in a bar with the commentary on and you get to see it HD, slow-motion moves.
So both have their positives and negatives, but I think both are brilliant experiences within their own right. And again with sports, but I watch baseball nearly every day. And that made me want to go, so much so that I went to Boston to see the Red Sox. It still makes you want to go and experience it live.
I think NT Live is important for that, creating access to theatre. You know, people who can't come down for various reasons, they're given the opportunity to go to the cinema for £15 and see it in their home town.
And then that hopefully encourages them to keep going back and see more there. And maybe, one day they will be able to come down to London.
Photo credit: Brinkhoff and Moegenburg