I’m Ffion, and I’ve been looking after the ‘Macbeth’ production team at Caerphilly Castle. My job at Cadw is to create a public programme of extraordinary experiences for visitors across our sites in Wales, from art exhibitions to open-air cinemas and spectacular outdoor art projects, like Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru’s new production of Macbeth at Caerphilly Castle.Way back in April 2015, I met Arwel Gruffydd, Artistic Director of the Theatr Gen, for a paned at the Wales Millennium Centre. I instantly thought that his idea of bringing Welsh theatre to a Welsh castle was a unique opportunity to open up our sites to new audiences, and to bring an unforgettable experience to an iconic castle.
The rich history and restoration of Caerphilly Castle…
Caerphilly Castle was built 700 years ago by one of Henry III’s most ambitious barons, Gilbert de Clare, lord of Glamorgan. But for me, it’s not about who originally lived at the castle, but what happened after it became a ruin, and how it has been reinvented through time.
It wasn’t until the Victorian period that this site came back to life after decaying and becoming a quintessential ruin, covered in ivy. By then, Caerphilly had become part of a vast south Wales estate owned by the Bute family, who made their wealth from coal. The third Marquess of Bute was completely fascinated by the Middle Ages. With his equally obsessive architect, William Burges, he lavishly restored Cardiff Castle from 1868 and Castell Coch in 1875.
Caerphilly Castle was not left untouched, and in 1871 he re-roofed parts of the building, so that the Royal Archaeological Institute could have lunch in the Great Hall. The result was a little bizarre, with the windows left as gaping holes. Even though Bute had a strong appetite for restoration, he did not make the same full-blown changes here, as the ones we see today at both Cardiff Castle and Castell Coch. It wasn’t until his son, the fourth Marquess of Bute, through a remarkable act of patronage, took on this enormous challenge.
His most significant pieces of restoration included the inner east gatehouse, which has been further transformed as part of the Macbeth production. I can’t wait to see the finished room, and would like to know what Bute and Burges might think of our efforts!
Not everyone was impressed by the Victorian restoration works at Caerphilly. The Office of Works, who looked after the nation’s ruined buildings, was uneasy. Their guiding philosophy for ancient ruins was to ‘keep as found’. Stories in the 1935 press stated that the work done at Caerphilly was in direct contradiction to the principles of Ruskin and William Morris. In contrast, the works were defended by the council, who recognised its importance to the local economy.
The work continued, in spite of heated debate; but was brought to a close by the Second World War. In 1947, the fourth Marquess died and the estate was forced to sell a good deal of property in south Wales. In 1950, Caerphilly Castle was taken into State care and the Ministry of Works, as it now was, faced a dilemma. They had become responsible for a much-restored medieval castle, that they now had to ‘keep as found’! Even so, restoration has continued over the past 60 years and more.
In the 1960s, the inner east gatehouse was re-roofed, and windows added to the great hall. More recently, Cadw has given the inner east gatehouse new floors, and the great hall a new fireplace, adding to the layers of history.
Bringing a Welsh castle alive with Welsh theatre…
What I love about heritage sites is that they are continuously changing. This production adds another layer to the story. I could never have imagined back when I met Arwel in 2015, that ‘Macbeth’ would become the largest set-based production I’ve ever managed for Cadw and it’s been amazing to watch the crew transform the castle into something else again.
It is a grand production, broadcast live into 11 cinemas across Wales – and it seems fitting that this legendary play should be shown at the largest castle in Wales during Visit Wales’s 2017 Year of Legends.
To see the play from the comfort of your local cinema, grab a ticket here.
Blog written by Dr Ffion Reynolds, Heritage and Arts Manager, Cadw