Caroline Clegg on….. Heaton Park, Manchester and Shakespeare

The epic flair of Caroline Clegg, Artistic Director of Feelgood Theatre, was evident early on: inaugural production Our Girls – staged during the City of Drama at Barton Aerodrome – had the cast arrive in a B52 bomber. Fifteen years later– following acclaimed productions like Robin Hood, Blue Remembered Hills, Wind in the Willows, and DraculaFeelgood have established an international reputation for adventurous, site specific theatre.

Their latest, Macbeth is a collaboration with Theatre Under Fire; a dynamic fusion of Shakespeare’s text with fire sculpture, a capella singing and African dance. We caught up with Caroline to discuss her love of outdoor theatre, Manchester and Shakespeare.

You have staged outdoor productions in at Park Bridge and Dunham Massey but now seem settled in Heaton Park …
Heaton Park is one of the most stunning municipal parks in the county with topographical qualities and locations that work well for intimate and epic theatre. It’s a ‘playground’ that I have known since childhood and at Feelgood, we have shared in its ups and downs over the years to its current renaissance as a premier visitor attraction … Like a live show which is different every night, the environment is a living ‘set’ and is never the same on two days.

Companies like Midsommer Actors and Rocket have staged promenade productions here in the past; they have since folded but Feelgood are still here. How have you survived?
Some would say through sheer bloody mindedness; I am a very determined person, but in reality it’s through the efforts and belief of sponsors, friends and fellow artists who also believe in theatre. I like to think I have a vision of what theatre, and in particular site-specific theatre should be, and how it serves the community. Some may think it narcissistic, others slightly maverick but I had a dream of creating a theatrical legacy in Manchester, by Manchester artists, that would be a proud export internationally.

Macbeth seems a dark play to stage during the summer …
It is a great play for any time of year, one of my favourites, and is often requested by our audiences. It has great clarity of story, message and our setting in the darkness of Heaton’s woods adds an extra layer of mystic to the supernatural atmosphere of the piece.  

What have Theatre Under Fire brought to the project?
They are refugees in the UK, driven from their home by a broken regime which is a central theme in Macbeth … who is fit to rule; who is incorruptible, how does ambition become such a powerful drug that it distorts and corrupts the heart and soul of a man and then his country? When you fuse the rhythms of the African drum beat, a capella singing and a style of dance that is ‘of the earth’ it provides a pulse – a pulse that drives the production which mirrors the heart-beat of Shakespeare.

You won the MEN Horniman Award in 2007 …
I was deeply honoured to win. To be acknowledged by your peers is a great accolade and validation that the work you have been doing has made a difference and that you contribute to the cultural life of the community … I am by no stretch of the imagination a visionary like Annie Horniman, but I like to think that in a small way I am a feisty female carrying on with a bit of her indomitable spirit.  

Why stay in Manchester?
Feelgood have had offers to re-locate to another city but I started something here which I feel I want to complete. Manchester is a great city, a city of originality, and with a strong identity of its own. It does not need more northern bases of London institutions but ideas that have grown from a need, desire and enthusiasm from the artistic community and audience here. Whilst it is great to bring in outside artists and producers I believe we should build from the inside out and cherish and enhance our own skills.

Any future projects?    
In 2010 we have a world premier at The Lowry with Slave, an adaptation of Mende Nazer’s autobiography which will be written by Kevin Feegan and myself … I will also be staging a Verdi opera, at the Luxor Temple in Egypt within the next three years.

Caroline Clegg was speaking to Stephen Timms

Macbeth is at Heaton Park from 15 July until 2 August. For more details, please visit the Feelgood website.