Lady Macbeth: Unsex Me Here

Three male dancers perform Company Chordelia & Solar Bear’s Lady Macbeth: Unsex Me Here choreographed by Kally Lloyd-Jones and cast. Being three, this is a nod to the witches, and that these Lady Macbeths are possessed by evil: cue howling winds, cawing ravens and the wish to be ‘unsexed’. This production has it all: melodrama to the hilt (literally), blood, babies’ skulls bashed out, wringing hands and madness. What could go wrong?

All three dancers are superb but this flawed production does not do them justice.

It depends how much melodrama you can take. Subtlety is not this show’s strength. The psychological insight and wonderful balance of theatre and dance in Company Chordelia’s previous production Nijinsky’s Last Jump, led to high expectations but sadly this current offering is disappointing.

The decision to include British Sign Language is laudable and also honours the fact that one of the dancers, Jacob Casselden, is deaf though his dancing is equal to the other two. However, too much miming and in-your-face clawing, even a forefinger and little finger raised in the devil’s sign just look clunky.

There appears to be no justification for having three dancers. The choreography does not explore the dynamics, and there is no psychological depth added. One can see the usefulness when two jump out of role and play the sleeping grooms and only one Lady daubs them with blood. Incidentally, Lady M shows horror at the blood on her hands. Whoops, that was Macbeth, wasn’t it, in the play? Having Lady Macbeth morph into Macbeth only once in the production, was obviously a step too far, but it does lose the contrast with Shakespeare’s Lady M’s steeliness here in contrast to her mental deterioration later. Again at the end when one Lady lies dead on the ground, the other two wash her corpse then very strangely, the corpse jumps up and swops with one of the servants, to be carried out by the other two creating a ludicrous effect.

At the start, the three men apply makeup in booths with rounded light bulbs suggesting a backstage dressing room. Maybe this is a hint that just as theatre is pretence or role-playing, so are gender roles, but this significance is not explored in depth. In Shakespeare’s times, women’s parts were played by males and so in the 400th anniversary of his death, it must have seemed an inspired choice to cast males, but putting on makeup and red skirts does not turn these men into women, nor does it illuminate the nature of femininity versus masculinity.

Much is made of the Lady Macbeth’s rocking a babe in arms (which later is tellingly revealed to be a bundle of stones). Although in Shakespeare the Macbeths have no children, this production’s interpretation rests on the link between horror at killing a baby and Lady Macbeth’s descent into madness. It begs the question that femininity equals maternity (and I can hear the howl of feminists at this slur to childless women). That said, this is a convincing re-telling and justifies departing from Shakespeare. It is only at this point that the choreography comes electrically alive with frantic rocking of empty arms portraying the descent into madness, and particularly expressive anguish from Thomas J. Baylis culminating in Jack Webb’s searing embodiment of distress – though again, since this finale is a solo, it poses the question of why not one Lady M throughout?

All three dancers are superb but this flawed production does not do them justice. It’s a case of three dancers in search of a choreographer.

Reviews by Stephanie Green

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The Blurb

Top Five Must-See Dance Shows, 2017 (Guardian). From the Herald Angel Award-winning creator of five-star Fringe hit Nijinsky's Last Jump comes a powerful new piece of dance theatre exploring the ambition, power and remorse of one of Shakespeare's most complex women. Paralleling Shakespeare’s time, a talented cast of three male dancers all play Lady Macbeth, exploring the relationship between masculinity and femininity. This co-production with Solar Bear uses British Sign Language as an integral part of the choreography, creating a unique, visceral show for all audiences. ‘A triumph' **** (Herald). ‘Fascinating' **** (Scotsman).