First published in The Times, Monday November 7 2016
Was there ever a more contradictory figure in literature than Lady Macbeth? On the one hand she is an enthusiastic accessory to murder whose avowed readiness to commit infanticide has made her a byword for perverse maternity. Yet, by the end of Shakespeare’s tragedy she has become a pathetic figure, taking refuge from assorted torments in madness and suicide.
This striking new dance theatre piece, created by Kally Lloyd-Jones, the artistic director of Company Chordelia, strives to reach a wider and deeper understanding of the character, expanding upon the tantalising glimpses and references offered in the play. Though Lloyd-Jones draws on text and motifs familiar from Shakespeare as a starting point for the show (presented as a co-production with Solar Bear), her use of extracts from Verdi’s opera and Vivaldi’s Stabat Mater, sung by countertenor, further enrich her exploration of notions of femininity and masculinity, as embodied in the tragic heroine.
Pic: Jane Hobson
In reference to Lady Macbeth’s famous “unsex me here” soliloquy, and as an allusion to the fact that in Shakespeare’s day a male actor would have played the part, the three performers here, Thomas J Baylis, Jacob Casselden and Jack Webb, are all men. We first see them seated in stalls, ritually applying make up and later watch them cleaning themselves post-performance in a nod to the compulsive hand washing of the sleepwalking scene.
The intense, hour-long show takes the form of a mix of individual and group sequences addressing various aspects and interpretations of Lady Macbeth – as witch, mother, murderer and madwoman – while taking the opportunity to explore the nature of performance through such a seemingly contradictory figure. The inspired stroke here is Llloyd-Jones’s incorporation of British Sign Language into her choreography, with the repeated motifs layering up in the course of the show to culminate in a dense blur of movement at the death.
Pic: Jane Hobson
Visually, the piece is always compelling, from the blood-red skirts worn by the performers in the early sequences to the visceral, increasingly frenzied interpretation of the sleepwalking scene, performed by Webb in a billowing nightgown. There are moments of real darkness here, too, as in the sequence in which the performers roll out the bundles they have been cradling in their arms to reveal they are full of stones. Meanwhile, Janis Hart’s sensuous costumes and gorgeous lighting designs by Laura Hawkins further augment the show’s uncanny beauty.
Touring Scotland to November 19. Chordelia.co.uk