A Tale of Sound and Fury: Rob Ashford on Binge-Watching Netflix, Instant Fame and Collaborating with Kenneth Branagh

By Carey Purcell
18 Jun 2014

Kenneth Branagh and Rob Ashford
Kenneth Branagh and Rob Ashford
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Tony-winning choreographer and director Rob Ashford talks with Playbill.com about making his Shakespearean directing debut with none other than Kenneth Branagh.

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It's Rob Ashford's first time directing Shakespeare, a fact one would never guess while talking with him.

Ashford has been a part of the theatrical landscape for more than two decades as a dancer, choreographer and director. His directing credits include revivals of How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying and Promises, Promises; and he has choreographed Evita, Curtains and Thoroughly Modern Millie, among numerous other productions. The 2013 revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, with Tony winner Scarlett Johansson starring as Maggie, marked the first play he had directed on Broadway.



Across the pond, Ashford's work includes Parade, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Anna Christie at the Donmar Warehouse, as well as Guys and Dolls at the Piccadilly Theatre starring Ewan McGregor and Jane Krakowski. He co-directed, with Jason Moore, the West End production of Shrek The Musical, which ran from 2011-13 at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. 

Now, Ashford is at the helm of Macbeth, co-directing with stage and screen star Kenneth Branagh. The immersive production of Shakespeare's Scottish Play, staged in the massive Drill Hall at the Park Avenue Armory, features Branagh in the title role and "Dr. Who" star Alex Kingston as Lady Macbeth.

Ashford talked with Playbill.com about the popularity of immersive theatre, collaborating with Kenneth Branagh and whether the witches in the production will interact with the audience. 

How did you get involved in this production? You've choreographed and directed a lot of musicals in New York, but I've only seen one play — Cat on a Hot Tin Roo— that you directed. 
Rob Ashford: This is the first Shakespeare I've done. I've been associate director at the Donmar under Michael Grandage in London for four years. I did A Streetcar Named Desire with Rachel Weisz, I did Anna Christie with Jude Law. Alex Poots, who's the artistic director of the Manchester Festival and the Armory, actually saw Anna Christie and loved the production and was very moved by it. When he and Ken were discussing how they could collaborate on Macbeth, Alex suggested I would be the guy to work with, to stage the production and work with him. Alex called me — I've never met him — out of the blue and said, “Any interest in doing Macbeth with Ken Branagh?” I said, "Absolutely." He's a brilliant actor. I was a huge fan of the Shakespeare films that he made and just him as an actor in general. I met with Ken and we hit it off well. We made this partnership and set out on the journey of creating this Macbeth.

 Continued...