News Column

Eyewitness: East London: Goldfinger tower plays host to all-night Macbeth

June 20, 2014

Hannah Ellis-Petersen

At 27 storeys tall, the Balfron Tower stands in the shadow of Canary Wharf; a building that once stood as a monument to idealism in social housing, now reduced to a crumbling obelisk in the east London skyline.

But, at least temporarily, the decaying flats and empty walkways of the high-rise block, designed by Erno Goldfinger, will be brought back to life as the stage for Shakespeare's tragedy Macbeth. In a fully immersive production that opens in July, audience members will spend 12 hours overnight in the building, as the play is acted out over three floors of the tower.

The play will go on to the early hours of the morning, after which the audience are encouraged to sleep in their designated flats, until they are woken at dawn for the final scenes and breakfast on the roof.

The immersive piece was envisioned and devised by Rift, a theatre company made up of Felix Mortimer, 27, and Joshua Nawras, 28. After being approached by the owners of the Balfron building in 2013 asking whether they'd like to use the space, the pair said it was the history and origins of the brutalist structure, and the utopian vision of its architect, Goldfinger, that originally inspired them to use it to stage Macbeth.

Mortimer said: "The building looked so violent and brutal in the skyline as it's so stark, just a big finger up to Canary Wharf. Goldfinger, who designed the Balfron Tower, had this amazing vision of what the future would be like and it struck so many chords in terms of creating societies and creating a utopia." The nature of the building, he added, meant it became a main character within the play with sounds recorded around the building as a background track.

"This space was the first thing that we had and it's the main character in this play. The building spoke to us about society and about Goldfinger's idea of what future society would be, and how that got corrupted. Goldfinger's utopia became Danny Boyle's dystopia as this building was famously used for his film 28 Days Later. We wanted to look at how something so pure and so audacious could turn into a byword for something that is so horrible." The listed building, which is similar to Goldfinger's Trellick Tower in west London, is due be turned into luxury flats. The play will be set in Borduria, the fictional state originally created in HergE's Tintin that resembles a 1970s eastern European state. The flats are decked out with faded furniture, dusty Persian rugs and old-fashioned televisions, recalling the history of the building where Goldfinger, who moved into the top floor in 1968, would famously host champagne-fuelled parties for residents of the tower.

The show, which lasts around five hours, sees the audience move on a carefully curated journey from a dark, abandoned car park, where the witches are gathered around a fire, to the intimate flats, the specially created bars and even a banqueting hall, where they feast with the Macbeths before being sent back to sleep until dawn on bunkbeds, sofas or even floors of the abandoned flats. "Macbeth is also a play that exists in this abstract time that stretches out endlessly, where it's always night-time and everyone's always awake, so that's why we felt it was fitting to invite the audience to live and sleep in that world, exist in it in real time and experience it inside out," said Nawras.

Photographs: Felix Clay

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Source: Guardian (UK)

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